“Feds, strip clubs fighting human trafficking” by Annie Sweeney

This is an excerpt from an article written by Annie Sweeney of the Chicago Tribune that was published on April 5, 2014. The source of this excerpt can be found at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-strip-club-trafficking-training-met-20140406,0,467972.story

source: Chicago Tribune

source: Chicago Tribune

It was a standard hotel conference room scene — slices of fresh fruit and muffins laid out next to coffee urns and bottles of water chilling on ice as the attendees straggled in, industry friends hugging hello and quickly catching up on personal lives.

The west suburban conference, though, was hardly typical, and before it got started a hotel manager, standing near TV cameras there to cover the event, even asked an organizer to leave his hotel chain’s name out of remarks if possible.

The 100 or so attendees were dancers, doormen, valets and bartenders from six Chicago-area strip clubs. And they were there to meet with federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security about how they might offer help with a problem that has increasingly become a target of law enforcement investigations: sex trafficking.

The pairing of federal agents with an industry that has drawn a fair share of negative attention for everything from alleged links to organized crime to negative effects on neighborhoods strikes some as surprising.

But those working at the clubs say their jobs put them as close to the problem as anyone. They have seen troubling signs of trafficking — scared women who seem under the control of the men who pick them up — and want to know what to do.

“I would love to learn how to get them to reach out, (to learn) what we can say to get them to come forward,” said Anna Dulin, 30, a dancer who is now a hostess in the VIP room of Scores in Stone Park. “We are on the front lines to save these girls.”

The training Dulin attended is part of a 3-year-old partnership between federal agents and the strip club industry that started after St. Louis-based club operator Michael Ocello found one of his clubs the target of a human trafficking investigation.

[…]

Sex trafficking links to strip clubs have turned up in federal investigations nationally, including a major case tried in Chicago federal court in 1999 in which several Latvian women were forced to work as dancers here. Two years ago in Detroit, federal charges were brought against seven people who forced women to dance at clubs there. Agents said U.S. citizens have been forced into trafficking as well through coercive measures.

For many at the training, these and other stories were eye-opening.

“You hear about it here and there, and I have seen some television specials,” C.J. Johnson, a DJ at Polekatz, said of the problem. “I thought maybe it’s in a little club on a side road in a small town. But it’s happening in big markets, and we’re a gigantic market.”

But some experts who have studied the sex trade question the effort.

Gail Dines, a sociology and women’s studies professor at Wheelock College in Boston, was skeptical about law enforcement working with an industry with direct links to the exploitation of women, including prostitution. Dines said she suspected what was really happening was an effort by a long-criticized industry to cozy up to law enforcement.

“It’s trying to legitimize the industry,” she said. “It’s a very smart, clever move.”

[…]

This is a significantly shortened excerpt of the original article. To read the full article, go to the Chicago Tribune website http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-strip-club-trafficking-training-met-20140406,0,467972.story

Annie Sweeney is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.