Lake County Sheriff’s Office pledges crackdown on sexual exploitation

Frank Abderholden
fabderholden@stmedianetwork.com | @abderholden
July 11 6:12 p.m.

The sexual exploitation of children is a tough subject to address, but that was the topic of a seminar Friday hosted by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and attended by local police, social workers and residents.

“I think this is a an under-reported issue. The victims in these cases usually don’t have a voice,” said Sheriff Mark Curran, explaining that is why he organized the “Human Trafficking and Indentured Servitude” discussion in January and this week’s session, “Human Trafficking: Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.”

Held at Grayslake’s Crossroads Church, one of the speakers was a Libertyville man who called himself Frank Doe because his name could not be publicized.

He helped create the Salvation Army’s Promise Program and Anne’s House in Chicago, a shelter for woman between the ages of 12 to 21 trying to escape the sex trade. He also has rescued children from sex operations in Bangkok, Thailand.

Also speaking was Virginia Kendall, a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, who co-authored the book “Child Exploitation and Trafficking: Examining the Global Challenges and U.S. Responses.”

Kendall recalled how she started out as a federal prosecutor, wanting to be assigned public corruption cases. Instead, she got a call from Mount Prospect police in 1995 about a missing 15-year-old boy.

“His mother said he had been talking to someone on the Internet in a chat room for weeks,” Kendall said.

It was later determined the person the teen had been talking to was a man that lured young boys to his home to record videos of “sick rituals” that were posted on the Internet.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, what is going on?’ They were so far ahead of us electronically,” Kendall said, describing how the suspect had 15 computers and 10 Internet connections.

That man, Richard Romero, was eventually caught, convicted and sentenced to 23 years.

Kendall said she was horrified after interviewing kids involved in that and other sex-crime cases.

“These guys were talking to each other and sharing their exploits. It was disgusting. It’s basically video of men raping children,” she said. “That’s what we’re talking about.”

Predators target the vulnerable and underprivileged, Kendall said.

“There is a huge market for child pornography and a huge market for sex with children,” she said.

Gangs also got into the business of prostitution, Kendall said, and they didn’t care how old a girl was.

“It’s more lucrative than drugs. Once you sell a kilo you have to get another one, but a girl can be sent out and turn eight tricks a day,” she said.

“They are hard to find, hard to prosecute and hard to convict,” she said of those running prostitution rings.

Those at the seminar learned that about 90 percent of those involved in the sex trade were sexually assaulted when they were younger.

“They use psychological trauma to control them,” she said of the pimps, recounting stories of one woman being held in a air duct for two days and another who had to watch her friend get raped in front of her. “Now she isn’t just worried about protecting herself, but she has to worry about how her actions will affect her friend.

“They frequently are denied basics like food and drink if they violate the code,” she added.

Kendall likened sex victims to war victims with post-traumatic stress disorder. When police start talking to them, they often lie, give false identification or refuse to talk in fear of retribution, Kendall said.

“Now my mom who is 84 would say, ‘Why don’t (they) just leave’ and that’s a normal response. But it’s not that simple, that’s why we have to educate police, judges and juries,” she said.

“I’m here as an academic. There is a basic lack of understanding and the average citizen doesn’t get it,” Kendall added.

Communities and law enforcement agencies need to operate like neighborhood watches when something that doesn’t seem right is observed, she said.

“People need to rise up,” Kendall said.

“You don’t have to be paranoid, but vigilant. It’s a different world out there,’ said Frank Doe, the Libertyville speaker.

Then he hit the audience with a series of startling statistics.

The average age for exploitation in the United States is 11 years old, he said.

“Here is the U.S. (and) you see some very ugly things. The most vulnerable are runaways and throwaways, we have 1.6 million runaways a year,” he said. “One in three teens are recruited by a pimp within 48 hours of leaving home.”

He also said culturally-sanctioned violence and sex across all forms of media are exacerbating the situation.

“It makes me gag,” he said. “There are more than 100,000 pornography sites, and I think that’s low. There have been 20 million searches for teen sex and teen porn. And it’s not just girls and ladies, but boys too,” who are exploited, he said.

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