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Anne Ream is working to change the discussion about sex trafficking and prostitution in Illinois. Anne is a Chicago-based writer and the founder of The Voices and Faces Project, a national documentary initiative created to bring the testimony of sexual violence and trafficking survivors to the attention of the public. The Voices and Faces project is an End Demand Illinois campaign partner, working on a public awareness campaign and conducting testimonial writing workshops for survivors. Anne was recently honored by Family Resources in Davenport, Iowa, for her work. During an interview there, Anne explained why focusing demand is such an important effort. The full interview is also available as an MP3 here.

Interviewer: We’re hearing more about trafficking even in communities such as the Quad Cities. What does this mean, and how prevalent is it? I think most of us here have heard of [trafficking] in the past and think of drugs, not people.

Anne Ream: That’s a great, really important question. A big piece of what the Voices and Faces project is working on right now is a campaign called End Demand Illinois, which is looking at domestic sex trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation and coming to understand how women are trafficked, how often they are trafficked in the United States or lured into prostitution.

AR: The links between sexual and domestic violence and sexual exploitation and trafficking are great, meaning that I’ve interviewed and met many young women who have either entered into prostitution or been trafficked. One of the universal themes often is that they left home, in some cases have left their homes because of physical or sexual violence, end up as runaways on the street, and are very quickly pulled into the system because they have nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep. Someone convinces them that they can be a dancer, or a model, or, you know, “I’ll be your boyfriend and take care of you.”

AR:  I think [sex trafficking is one of the most significant human rights challenges of our time, in the U.S., right now. There is also a slightly greater recognition that sex trafficking is an international issue, but we need to start recognizing that sex trafficking and sexual exploitation occur in the U.S.

AR:  As a partner with the End Demand Illinois campaign, the Voices and Faces Project is working right now, with support from the NoVo foundation, to create an anti-sex trafficking public awareness campaign that’s going to be launching in early 2013.

AR:  One of the first things we have to start doing is having conversations in our own communities acknowledging that [sex trafficking] happens and acknowledging that the women whoa are trafficked are victims. Because very often, when I’m talking about the issue of sexual exploitation or women working in prostitution, I’ll hear someone say, “Well that’s really a victimless crime” or “That’s a choice,” and when you have listened to the stories of these women, [it becomes] very clear that it is not a choice.

AR:  I think we also need to be very clear that we won’t end sex trafficking until we end demand, and the demand exists in our community. This has been one of the most painful things for me to wrestle with, looking at the sheer numbers, when you look at sex trafficking and prostitution. You have to come to acknowledge that probably someone we know, someone that I like very much, has accessed those services. So it’s not other men, or other people doing it. It’s people we know, and unless we start to have a public conversation about that, and talk about the real damage done to women and girls through trafficking and prostitution, it won’t change.

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The End Demand Illinois campaign is shifting law enforcement's attention to sex traffickers and people who buy sex, while proposing a network of support for survivors of the sex trade.