Addressing Victims of Sexual Trafficking with a Dose of Humanity: The Role of Peer Counselors

Most people know the old saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” If there’s any truth to that statement, then surely there are few concepts more “insane” than society’s traditional approach to rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking.

Yet when the sheriff’s office in Cook County, Illinois, decided the time had come to approach the sex trade differently, some in the community and the field viewed the new approach as insanity. Hiring ex-convicts? To work in law enforcement?

Law enforcement tends to lack an understanding of the needs of women—or people of any gender—who have been victims of sexual trafficking. Efforts by victims’ advocates and improved training are slowly but surely dispelling the notion that these women willingly exploit themselves and are complicit in a victimless crime. The vast majority of these victims entered “the life” as juveniles. Many were runaways or abandoned; others compelled to prostitute themselves because of violence or threats of violence by trusted family members or even boyfriends and husbands. But finding a prostitute who is on the streets by choice—and who feels empowered by that choice—is akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.