DuPage panel examining 'negative effects' of adult businesses

Advocates say DuPage County could help combat sex trafficking by creating a licensing process for adult businesses that includes regular inspections and background checks of employees.

Six county board members are doing an examination of the "negative secondary" effects of adult businesses in unincorporated areas. This week, their committee heard testimony about the association between sex trafficking and adult businesses.

One of those who testified was Simone Halpin, executive director of Naomi's House, a residential home for female victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

"The community suffers from secondary impact issues because of adult businesses, including increased drug abuse in our community, the (breaking up) of families, increased violence and abuse against women, unresolved and untreated sexual addictions and the vicious cycle of keeping vulnerable and marginalized people in a hopeless and dangerous way of life," she said.

Halpin said it's estimated that up to 24,000 women and girls are sexually trafficked - bought and sold for sex - each year in the Chicago area.

She said adult businesses, such as strip clubs, adult photography studios and spas, often serve as a gateway between legal adult services and commercial sexual exploitation.

And while DuPage is trying to shut down an adult photo studio near Wheaton, Halpin said there's more work to be done.

"Our vision is for DuPage County to be the leader among the state of how to comprehensively address human trafficking in our community," she said, "not just push it out to another community, but to end it."

Kara Doan, co-founder of Restoration 61, an anti-sex trafficking organization based in DuPage and Will counties, said she interacted last year with more than 700 women who had been sex trafficked in the Chicago area. Roughly half of them were from the Chicago suburbs, she said.

"The truth is everywhere there is a legal adult industry, illegal commercial sexual exploitation is also present," Doan said.

While it may be impossible to end sex trafficking, Doan told the county board members that they could make DuPage "an undesirable place to make money off buying and selling young girls and women."

By law, DuPage can't ban adult businesses, but the county committee is planning to propose "reasonable" licensing regulations for those types of businesses.

If that happens, businesses would be required to renew their licenses each year. The process could include annual inspections and background checks of employees.

Micaela Cayton Garrido says licensing would help the county crack down on illegal activity and allow legitimate businesses to thrive. Cayton Garrido, who is the community training specialist for the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services, said inspectors are "really crucial" in the fight against human trafficking. She said there have been instances when inspectors were able to spot signs or illegal activity that allowed law enforcement to investigate.

"You have these state and federal laws, but who are the eyes and ears on the ground?" she said. "Who has the authority to go in there? It's the inspectors and regulators."

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