DuPage County officials are considering ways to regulate and license adult businesses in an effort to combat sex trafficking.

Members of an ad-hoc committee for the county board Tuesday heard testimony from attorneys and agencies that work with victims of sex trafficking during a public hearing. The committee, which began meeting in January, will have another hearing March 26.

“I think licensing is a very compelling way to handle this situation,” said county board member Julie Renehan, a Democrat from Hindsdale who chairs the committee.

The group was formed in response to concerns about adult businesses and the role some play in sex trafficking. Members hope to have a recommendation on ways to regulate adult businesses in to the county board as early as April. Any regulations would apply to businesses in unincorporated areas of DuPage County.

“Our vision is to have DuPage County be the leader in the state (in addressing sex trafficking); not just push it out into another community, but to end it,” said Simone Halpin, executive director of Naomi’s House, a residential recovery program in Chicago for victims of sex trafficking.

Halpin was one of several people to testify before the committee this week.

Members also heard from other groups that work with victims of sex trafficking who noted the effects on the community and its victims. The agencies, including Naomi’s House, noted many of their victims come to them with a variety of issues ranging from homelessness to health problems. They also testified that often their victims are exposed to sex trafficking through adult businesses. They estimate more than 24,000 women in the Chicago area are victims of sex trafficking each year.

Alexandra Johnson, an attorney with Metropolitan Family Services in Wheaton, said regulations and licensing can help provide another avenue to keep tabs on adult businesses.

Renehan pointed to the number of agencies represented at this week’s hearing as an illustration of the reach of sex trafficking in DuPage County.

“The thing that struck me is that it was so easy to come up with some many groups working on this issue in DuPage County,” she said. “To me, nothing can be more telling.”

In previous sessions, the committee took testimony from residents who live near adult businesses and the concerns they have and reviewed zoning regulations and other legal issues. At their March 26 meeting, committee members expect to hear testimony from the DuPage County Sheriff’s and State’s Attorney’s offices and the DuPage County Health Department regarding issues they deal with related to sex trafficking.

Earlier this month, DuPage County prosecutors sought a court order to close Hot Shots Photography Studio, a Wheaton area business.

According to the county’s lawsuit alleging various violations, Hot Shots routinely advertised on adult websites that offered ads for escort services. Customers would be screened by a Hot Shots employee and then directed to the Gary Avenue location. Customers then would pay $500 to $1,500, in addition to a $100 cover charge, to engage in sexual activity with Hot Shots employees, according to the lawsuit.

The studio is located within 1,000 feet of the athletic field at Wheaton North High School and residential property, the suit said. State law bars adult businesses from operating within one mile of a school.

Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.



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