The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

September 3, 2013

Who's a victim of human sex trafficking?

(Continued)

But the matter of victimhood can get even murkier than that.

Bridget Carr, a trafficking expert and clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan, sees it all the time. She is director of the law school's human trafficking clinic, where students get credit for representing clients, many of them teens and young women who are trying to break free from traffickers and start new lives.

But can people be "victims" if they sell their bodies for sex — and keep some of that money or trade it for drugs? Are they victims if a pimp provides cellphones, buys them clothes, or even cars, or places to stay? In some instances, a prostitute might even have children with her pimp.

"Do we believe that people who make bad choices are victims?" Carr asks.

Often they are, she believes. But sometimes she says the public — and the people who are supposed to enforce these new laws — still have a difficult time seeing prostitutes as victims, even when they're young.

One recent Friday morning in a stuffy, crowded classroom at the Cook County jail in Chicago, a few women shared stories at a meeting of a group called Prostitution Anonymous. If they agree to get help, the women usually are not charged with prostitution in Cook County, though they may face other charges, from drug use to disorderly conduct.

Sheila Johnson, a 33-year-old inmate, told her peers how she had a difficult time breaking free from a boyfriend who was also her pimp, even though she feared him. She was addicted to drugs — and, she admitted, "the money."

"As a regular person, I wouldn't dare do the things that I did because I was on drugs," Johnson said after the meeting, as tears streamed down her face. "Being sober, I wouldn't DARE prostitute."

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