Kirk proposal cracks down on underage sex trafficking - Fox 2 News Headlines

Kirk proposal cracks down on underage sex trafficking

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Backpage.com is a notorious website that has been accused of helping those who sexually exploit teenagers. Sen. Mark Kirk called out the website's owners by name on Monday.

Although Kirk arrived at Monday's news conference in a wheel chair, he was actually spoiling for a fight with two particular men. He proposed a new law that cracks down on underage human trafficking - and could put them in prison.

"Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey... Their pictures are behind me," Sen. Kirk said. "These are the men probably most responsible for human trafficking in the United States."

Larkin and Lacey are associated with the sexually explicit website, which is believed responsible for 70% of the prostitution advertising in America.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Sheriff Tom Dart, as well as other law enforcers across the country, claimed the website is used by pimps to advertise sexual services, allegedly including at least some provided by underage teens. A University of Illinois researcher estimated that up to 25,000 prostitutes work in the Chicago area.

The website's owners and lawyers have long pointed to their disclaimer page. Users are required to agree "to report any illegal services or activities ... (and) report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities."

Kirk considers it a sham, noting that right after users agree to the disclaimer, nudity and sexual explicit pages follow. FOX 32 News recently mapped out addresses listed on the website. Some have been busted.

"We've arrested thousands of people now off these ads," Dart said. "Not once, not once have we ever had to apologize, ‘Oh, my God! It really is a massage. Our mistake!'"

Kirk's proposal would empower prosecutors to close immediately any website found advertising underage prostitutes. Offenders could go to prison for five years.

"Slavery in America should not be tolerated or promoted in any way," Kirk said.

Kirk's proposal does go beyond underage victims, also outlawing online ads for illegal sex and pimping and adult prostitution. FOX 32 News tried repeatedly to contact Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin of the website Kirk denounced.

State's Attorney Alvarez explained to FOX 32 News Tuesday morning that the public often makes the assumption that human trafficking is something that only happens in other countries. But she said the reality is that domestic human trafficking is a very real issue in America, and the federal government is taking necessary steps to incapacitate those responsible and prevent children and adults from falling victim to it.

"This happens right here in Chicago to our high school students, even grammar school kids," Community activist Andrew Holmes told FOX 32. "When you read about vans pulling up, attempted abductions, this is possibly human trafficking."

Holmes also said there are cases where a young kid goes to a party and is exposed to drugs that cloud their senses. That can leave them vulnerable to be taken hostage in abandoned homes and forced into the sex trade.

"Some of them, when we rescue them, they will be so drugged up and dehydrated they don't realize their own name," Holmes said. "We try to get that help for them fast, but they move them so fast out of these houses, real quick."

Holmes is starting a non-profit called the Restoring Innocence Project, to help local victims of underage sex trafficking recover and prevent children from becoming victims in the first place.

Cook County Sheriff's Police Special Ops Unit commander Mike Anton is very familiar with Backpage. He told FOX 32 that he and his team have arrested many people off that website.

Anton said victims range from young girls grabbed off the street, to runaways, to those enticed with promises of prosperous modeling careers. The unit commander said they often use older women on first approach, and take their time getting to know these girls and boys to build trust.

"A lot of them enticed - predators go to schools, sometimes the group homes - where the troubled youth go," Anton told FOX 32. "That's where these people go to try to get their victims. "

But Anton also said parents can prevent their children from falling victim to human trafficking in Chicago, by simply being aware of what's going on and talking to their kids. He said it's a slow ingratiation process, so if parents know what's going on in their children's lives, they can look out for the warning signs.

"You have to know what your child is doing. There's no one thing you'll prevent your kids from doing. You have to raise them to know what's going on," Anton said. "This is a very real problem. These pimps are going on social media. They are all over the place."

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