Tuesday, August 09, 2005

U.S. kids coerced into prostitution

August 9, 2005

BY ANNIE SWEENEY Crime Reporter
Chicago Sun Times

Just teenagers, the two girls spent their nights walking up and down "the stroll" near 47th and Pulaski, waving at passing cars in hopes of finding work.

All the while, Victor Powell -- who allegedly had the girls tattooed with his pimp alias, "Mr. Cream" -- sat in his Cadillac, making sure his enterprise churned out its usual thousands of dollars a night, federal court documents indicate.

That was until October 2004, when Powell, 22, was arrested after one of the girls escaped his alleged iron grip and told her story to authorities.

Soon, Chicago's first federal prosecution of child trafficking and prostitution was launched.

Another Chicago-area resident, David Phillips, later was indicted under similar charges as Powell. He allegedly pimped a girl who was 14.

The cases against Powell and Phillips reflect the emerging concern that authorities have about U.S. citizens who are trafficked -- bought and sold on the street against their will.

In recent years, lawmakers and law enforcement have focused on human trafficking as an international crime -- women, for example, who are tricked into leaving Latvia to work as hookers in Germany.

But this year, for the first time, Congress is considering changes to anti-trafficking legislation that would recognize domestic trafficking. It would provide money to help victims recover and set up training for police.

Often, kids who find themselves lured into the trafficking trap are runaways or wards of the state.


"They are low-esteem children picked up at bus stops or malls, train stations or whatever," said FBI Special Agent Mark Wallschlaeger, a coordinator of the Child Prostitution section. "They are moved on. . . . Before they know it, they are doing things they wouldn't have imagined doing in all their lives."

'Almost a brainwashing'

Both Phillips and Powell glorified the pimp lifestyle, often posing with cash or girls, court documents show.

Powell had them watch videos called "Pimps Up Ho's Down" and "American Pimp" so they could learn the lifestyle. Phillips allegedly can be seen on a videotape saying, "Pimp some tonight. I need some Benjamins."

Powell allegedly brought the girls, one 16 and another 17, to "the stroll" -- along 47th Street between Western and Pulaski, and Pulaski between 47th and 59th -- every night between June and September 2004.

There, the girls would wave down cars, charging between $70 and $150, depending on the act they performed, the documents said.

Powell also allegedly took the girls to St. Louis to work at a hotel. During a trip to Arizona, one of them was arrested.

Powell allegedly chose the clothes the girls wore -- typically high heels and short skirts. He also allegedly beat and raped them.

"He kept all the money. He made them believe he was keeping the money for them. The girls were not free to leave. He kept them in horrible hotels. And moved them around. He paid for food and clothing," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton. "It's almost a brainwashing that takes place. It's a very complicated, horrible relationship."

Phillips' alleged victims, a 14-year-old and 16-year-old, were recruited after they ran away from Aunt Martha's Group Home for Troubled Youth in Glenwood, according to court records. They remained with him only for about three weeks, but during that time they were trafficked into Indiana.

Powell's attorney refused to comment, but Phillips' attorney denied the allegations.

"David Phillips did not take any children or adults over state lines, and there is no evidence that he did," said his attorney, Shannon Lynch.

Lynch said Phillips, a father, previously ran a limousine business and grew up in Chicago.

New law under review

People who have studied human trafficking say it's hard to know how many domestic victims are out there. A 2001 University of Pennsylvania study estimated there were as many as 325,000 children at risk of being caught up in commercial sex trades.

Chicago cops have come across kids who were trafficked in from other states. But exactly how many children have been forced into prostitution locally or over state lines is not clear.

Child prostitutes are as young as 11 and probably were sexually abused as young children. They don't get along with their parents or guardians, which makes having a pimp so attractive, said Faye, 17, a former child prostitute who spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper is withholding her last name to protect her safety.

The pimp will always make you feel better, Faye said, buying clothes and gifts and telling you what you want to hear. And he knows how to make you want him.

"If he said he didn't need me, I'd work harder," said Faye, who began prostituting at age 13 on the East Coast.

The FBI in Chicago began focusing on the problem of child prostitution two years ago after national federal law enforcement officials met with child advocacy groups. The discussion sparked more coordinated efforts to identify victims through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Chicago Public Schools, said Hamilton, of the U.S. attorney's office.

Legislation that Congress is considering not only would provide training for cops to better handle these specific human-trafficking cases, but it also would provide $5 million to build three rehabilitation centers around the country to house victims. Under existing law, no money is earmarked to help these victims, said Maureen Walsh, general counsel for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which helped draft the bill.

The mentality of law enforcement is often still punitive, Walsh said.

"Child victims are still viewed [as] the blame-worthy party," Walsh said. "They are to blame for being on the streets as opposed to looking at them as being children sexually exploited by adults."

Children of the Night in Los Angeles, a comprehensive facility for victims of child prostitution, is one of the few places around the country dedicated to this problem, said the founder, Dr. Lois Lee.

Lee said children who suffer this kind of abuse should not be housed with other children in the juvenile justice system.

Because of their sexual abuse, they lack a lot of the aggression other children in the system have. This leaves them unable to take care of themselves against kids who are criminals.

Yet, the children pose a different threat altogether.

"They recruit for pimps,'' Lee said. "And they're sexually compulsive."

'Walk forward'

When Faye arrived in Los Angeles, she had one plan: See the Hollywood sign and get back to the East Coast and her pimp.

Today, Faye is about to leave for college at Cal State-Long Beach -- a success story at Children of the Night.

"If a 13-year-old girl is able to turn her life over, then anything is possible," she said. "Tell the girls the hardest part is to walk forward. It's the easiest to go back. Once you are able to move forward you are able to do so many things."

Meanwhile, both Powell and Phillips are awaiting trial. The FBI's Wallschlaeger is pursuing leads on other victims.

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