Last year, something rare happened in a Cook County courtroom. A john was held accountable for the harm he caused to a 16-year-old girl after buying sex from her and nearly killing her with his car. Adekunkle Adefeyinti, 42, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
This case matters because it wasn’t easily won. Assistant State’s Attorneys Beth Pfeiffer and Brigid Brown, as well as the detectives involved in the case, worked hard to seek justice for this young woman when, seemingly, no one else would. There are so many barriers to justice for people in prostitution. Many are seen as not being “credible” because they are in the sex trade, even those who are minors. Burns and Brown took on the case within the Human Trafficking Unit, and they say those resources made all the difference.
The End Demand Illinois campaign observed the trial, during which the young survivor spoke about the horror of what happened that night. On June 12, 2011, Adefeyinti picked her up to engage sex for money. After the sex act, he then drove the victim to several ATMs, trying to get her to withdraw money using his wife’s card. When she refused, he grew angry. While she was still standing on the running board of his car, he drove her directly into a line of parked cars.
The young woman awoke covered in blood, alone. She sought help, eventually making her way to the CTA Brown line where a worker there called an ambulance. The young woman had serious injuries to her face, scalp and body and was placed in intensive care.
In open court, the young woman testified what had happened to her. She was honest about exchanging sex for money, and yet the judge did not find her credible. After her testimony, the judge remarked that the victim’s credibility was affected be her “less than modest dress” on the stand and quibbled over her story about how money had been exchanged. These insensitive comments underscore how much more progress needs to be made to understand and respond to the sex trade.
In 2010, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez created the Human Trafficking Initiative Unit to focus on the specialized prosecution of these types of cases, including assisting victims caught up in the cycle of sexual violence. Designated prosecutors work with law enforcement partners at the federal, state and local levels to conduct long term and proactive investigations that ultimately lead to successful prosecutions.
EDI interviewed Assistant State’s Attorney Beth Pfeiffer (pictured) about the case. We applaud Beth and her colleagues for their work seeking justice for this young woman.
EDI: It’s also not very often that we see a survivor of the sex trade treated as a crime victim. You put forward some really compelling evidence that helped the court to see this young woman as a person, worthy of help—was that important to you in this case?
Beth Pfeiffer: It was critical to the case. Judges have seen so many types of crimes. We had to consider his frame of reference, and whether he determined if it was a severe crime. Presenting her age was a factor, and I tried to emphasize that that she was released from the hospital to a police officer because no family was there. It went beyond the fact someone who was choosing to exchange sex for money.
The judge had twice reduced the john’s bond so he could get out. Each time, I showed the judge a picture of the victim in the ICU. None of that mattered. He minimized the situation as a dispute over money.
EDI: How did testimony help you build the case?
Beth Pfeiffer: Part of our strategy was to show how many people cared. It takes people who have hearts. The doctor, who testified without even using her notes, remembered this victim. She remembered that morning. She remembered everything about this situation. She was waiting in the trauma bay when the victim came in. The doctor said that a lot of the conversation in the ER was about the fact that she was a prostitute, and doctor said, “It doesn’t matter who she is.”
The young man working at the CTA El station was also very moved. His testimony was that he sat down and prayed for her and with her.
EDI: We think it’s a huge sign of progress that this john was prosecuted and convicted. Is there anything you would want to emphasize to the public and people who support ending demand?
Beth Pfeiffer: Honestly, I think our success in this case is because we had the time to dedicate to it within the Human Trafficking Unit—having this case come to us so that we could build rapport with the victim. What happened to her was so horrible. Our unit also works with cold cases, and a large number of cold case cases involve prostituted women. There have been two or three transgender women killed. It’s a huge issue. I think that johns and others surmise that there’s going to be a credibility issue [no one will believe the women] so they don’t worry about it.
EDI: We don’t hear a lot about cases when prosecutors are going after the demand side of the sex trade. What do you think it would take to see an increase in these types of prosecutions?
Beth Pfeiffer: The biggest difference is that the State’s Attorney has created a Human Trafficking Unit so we could focus on this. There’s a lot of crime in Chicago. That’s why you have a special prosecution unit that can meet with the victim and follow every lead. It also starts with the arrest. Having the arrest of the johns allows our office to act. We can’t do anything until that occurs. Then it’s up to our office to follow through.
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