Sex workers get arrested and sex buyers go home: That’s the headline finding in a report released this week by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE).
CAASE reviewed arrest and ticket records and conducted hours of interviews over 18 months to compile the report, “Policing and Enforcement of Prostitution Laws in Chicago."
Melinda McMichael, one of the women interviewed, said her eight years as a prostitute reflect the CAASE report findings “We were vulnerable," she said. "They could easily interrogate us. Most likely we are the ones with the drugs, the warrants, the bad background. We were the easy catch.”
The key findings of the report reflect the trends described by McMichael. The arrest data for 2013 with 1,648 arrests show the prostitute or the “seller” was arrested 74% of the time compared to the “john” or the “buyer” who was arrested 25% of the time.
That proportion shot up dramatically by 2017. Although the number of arrests dropped by more than half to 734, the percentage of “sellers” or prostitutes arrested jumped to 91% compared to the “johns" or "buyers" at 8%.
The report’s lead author, Madeleine Behr, said it is difficult to say why the proportion jumped so drastically.
“There may be less interest in enforcing prostitution laws,” Behr said. She told NBC 5 she reached out to the Chicago Police Department several times as they drafted the report but did not get a response.
NBC 5 also reached out to the Chicago Police Department. CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said they had not fully read the report as of press time, but that he “disagreed with the characterization of how we handle prostitution arrests.”
Guglielmi went on to say the department mainly combats prostitution through “long term organized crime investigations” and that “those are certainly targeted toward those who solicit.”
CAASE made several recommendations to the Chicago Police Department, first and foremost of which is to “treat buying sex as a more serious offense” and “always arrest and issue state solicitation of prostitution misdemeanor charges against people buying sex.”
The CAASE report does point out that in many interviews, women reported positive interactions with police that included offers of food and water and just asking after their well-being.
McMichael is now two years clean and sober and works to help other sex trafficking survivors. She holds tight to a series of mugshots from her arrests over the years. They are for various crimes including drugs and prostitution. McMichael said she looks at them often.
"These photos really remind me I never want to go back,” she said.
She also shows them often, "to show people they can change too."