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Many legal practitioners think of prostitution-related crimes as non-serious public order offences akin to other misdemeanors. And, for many years, both the law and law enforcement treated these crimes as such. However, there has been a significant change in Illinois criminal law when it comes to prostitution. While this change has been taking place over the last decade in Illinois, many practitioners, including some who do criminal work, are unaware of these changes.  Many lawyers don’t realize that it is becoming less common these days for prostitution-related crimes to be treated like mere public order offences and more common for these crimes to be treated like instances of human trafficking and exploitation.  This change has not only manifested itself in the attitudes and approaches of law enforcement, but it has also been enshrined in statute. From the perspective of a defense lawyer, this change has been both very good and very bad. First, it is good because it recognizes the fact that some women (and men) in prostitution are truly victims of abuse and coercion. The law has responded to this reality by eliminating some of the harsher consequences that prostitutes once faced. For instance, there is no longer a felony classification for prostitutes with multiple convictions. Additionally, victims of trafficking can very quickly have their criminal records sealed, and the law now explicitly states that coercion or trafficking are affirmative defenses to the crime of prostitution. On the other hand, the change is very bad because it seeks to elevate crimes like soliciting and patronizing a prostitute into the realm of more serious offences such as pimping and human trafficking. Along with this change in attitude, there has been a serious increase in the penalties that the law applies to those who are convicted of patronizing and/or soliciting prostitutes. And, while the statutes imposing these penalties are written in a gender-neutral way, the obvious purpose of these laws is to target men.

Much of this change has been driven by feminist-marxist ideas about prostitution and the sex trade. In the minds of many such activists, sex work is a form of patriarchal oppression and violence against women as opposed to a private matter between consenting adults. This ideology has led to major changes in prostitution laws in other countries and jurisdictions as well. The so-called “Nordic” or “Swedish” model has been adopted to some degree in the Nordic countries as well as Ireland, Canada, and France.[i] Under the “Nordic” model, it is usually legal for sex workers to sell their services, but illegal for buyers to purchase those services. The changes that have occurred in Illinois law have to some degree mirrored this approach. While Illinois doesn’t quite go as far as the “Nordic” model in that sex work is not legal for sellers or buyers, it does seek to lessen the consequences faced by sellers who are more often perceived as victims while simultaneously increasing the consequences for buyers who are more often perceived as facilitators or predators.   In the words of CAASE (Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation), one of the big activist organizations behind these changes, “Prostitution could not exist without the purchasers who create the demand for paid sex. Violence against women in the sex trade is pervasive, and yet our society has yet to stand up against the people who fuel the sex trade. The End Demand Illinois campaign raises awareness about the role that purchasers (often referred to as “johns”), pimps, and traffickers play in perpetuating violence against women in the sex trade.” [ii]This quote is prominently displayed on the home page of the CAASE Illinois website. The website goes on to say that “Our End Demand Illinois campaign has sharply reduced the criminal system impact on prostituted people while successfully increasing accountability for exploiters.” [iii]

Cook County orders of protection attorney

When the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) expired in February of 2019, Congress almost immediately began the process of reauthorizing, amending and expanding the scope of the Act. Just as quickly as they had begun these efforts, the amendments to VAWA provoked opposition from gun rights groups. But, why is there so much controversy surrounding these amendments, and are the concerns of groups like the National Rifle Association (“NRA”) well founded? Based on my reading of the law, my understanding of how the law interacts with state laws, and my experience with Illinois orders of protection, I believe there is legitimate cause for concern. Of course, my concern is not limited to the VAWA. Both the VAWA and the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 (“IDVA”) contain very similar provisions that can undermine the rights of citizens under some questionable circumstances. I suspect that the reason that the VAWA is drawing so much controversy now is because it is continually broadening the circumstances whereby a citizen can lose his/her 2nd Amendment rights. Before I continue this analysis, let me emphasize that the purpose of this post and the focus of this blog, in general, is not primarily political advocacy. There are plenty of forums that address the gun control/gun rights debate, and those forums serve an important and worthy function. However, the purpose of this post is to highlight the very serious legal implications of reauthorizing the VAWA and how the VAWA already interacts with Illinois law. Far too often, contentious political debates overshadow important discussions about our laws and how they affect the rights of individuals. Such is the case with the VAWA. Just taking a brief look at the articles and coverage available on the subject, one can see that this issue is being falsely characterized as a pro-woman vs. anti-woman issue. And, those who oppose the bill are being falsely characterized as unsympathetic to victims of domestic violence.[i]  Sadly, what is lost in all this political analysis is that these laws contain some very consequential remedies. And frankly, I don’t think most politicians (and many lawyers) understand how these provisions work in real court settings. In the paragraphs below, I attempt to give the reader a sense of how these laws actually work when applied in real life court situations.

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