West Side official seeks prostitution-free zones in West Garfield Park

April 22, 2011
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In Lisa Miller’s neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to spot prostitutes working the streets or to see johns trolling for a girl. That much didn’t surprise her. But she was shocked when, walking one day near her home at Madison and Kedzie, a man pulled up with his window down and propositioned her for sex.

“’Do you date?’ That’s what they say,” said Miller, 44, a mother of three teenagers. “And I’m an older woman. If they’re doing that to me, imagine what they’re doing to the younger girls?”

Residents and business owners in West Garfield Park have dealt with issues like this for years, says 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin, and they’re sick of it.

“I’ve lived on the West Side of Chicago most of my life … and everybody knows to go to Madison Street to find a young lady,” said Ervin, 36. “That’s not a reputation that I want the West Garfield community to have. We want to clean up that scourge.”

Ervin introduced a new ordinance earlier this month that he says will help combat prostitution by creating “prostitution-free zones.” Under the proposed law, people who are convicted of prostitution would be banned from parks and “public walkways” within the zones for one year.

But some prostitution advocates say the law could be unconstitutional and set back the recovery chances of prostitutes, whom they view as victims rather than perpetrators of crime.

After hearing complaints about prostitution at a recent neighborhood meeting, Ervin said he decided to propose the zones, a strategy he used as village manager of Maywood.

If passed, the local ordinance will designate a roughly four-by-eight-block area – bounded by Jackson Boulevard to the south, Kinzie Street to the north, Cicero Avenue to the east and Kostner Avenue to the west – as the first zone, Ervin said. The police superintendent and Chicago City Council would have the power to add zones or tweak the boundaries.

If a person is found in a zone within a year of a prostitution-related conviction, she is banned from the area for one year. If she is simply arrested but not convicted, she’s banned for 90 days.

Violators could get jail time – seven days to a maximum of six months, for a first offense – plus a fine up to $500 and at least 40 hours of community service. A vehicle “used to violate the ordinance” could be seized, and the owner could be fined $1,000.

But some who work with women in the sex trade say the law would further penalize the victim – that is, the prostitute, who often has a long history of abuse, suffers from mental illness and is addicted to drugs.

Barring these women from their own neighborhoods will be disruptive to their recovery and will only push the problem elsewhere, said Daria Mueller, a senior policy analyst with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“It’s a really bad approach,” Mueller said, adding that the law may be unconstitutional. “It’s basically saying if you have ever been arrested for prostitution, you can’t exist in a particular neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if you live there or work there or shop there – you just can’t be there.”

Mueller said she hopes to meet with the alderman to discuss alternative strategies, such as targeting johns and pimps, and directing women to services instead of jail.

Various versions of prostitution-free zones have been implemented in other cities, including Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

In Portland, Ore., two similar laws were passed in the 1990s. In 1992, the city of 580,000 residents enacted drug-free zones, in which any person arrested for a drug-related crime was automatically “excluded” from the area for 90 days. The city passed a similar prostitution law three years later.

Exemptions were eventually added so “excluded” people could enter the zone for work, doctors’ visits or other services.

Drug arrests in “drug-free zones” reportedly decreased as much as 50 percent in the five years after the Portland law was put in effect.

But a series of legal challenges followed, and the city’s mayor declined to re-sign the law in 2007 after data showed that people of color constituted a disproportionate number of “zone” arrests in the overwhelmingly white city.

Ervin said he is unsure when the proposed ordinance will be called for a vote.

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6 thoughts on “West Side official seeks prostitution-free zones in West Garfield Park

  1. I am glad to see Ald.Ervin on the move to clean up a long time issues that has been plaguing our West Garfield Park for years. We need to get behind him and help out,it will be better for our community and childrens.We need to see stand together as a commuity with our Aldermans if they are working on efforts to improve our community.Please stand up fpr change.Think of all our childrens safety fisrt.Let put our differents aside.Former West Garfield Residents. Ms. Catherine Jones God Bless

  2. ya,lets target the whores.god knows we shouldnt be targeting the gangs or drug dealers.and lets make sure we dont include that zone to the east garfield side.those white people can feel our pain.thats probally why theres no business on the west side of the park,those ladies of the night.why dont we make a no felon zone,and get rid of half the population of the west side.

  3. Tell me again what happens if the prostitute and john live and or work in this “zone”. They have to move or quit their job? Is there a better way to deal with the problem? I think I have a problem with this “Prostitution Free Zone” thing.

  4. Wow! It is so interesting to read the different opinions of everyone. Ald. Ervin is trying to bring his ward to another level (Thank God). Do we as Blacks always have to accept the worse of the worse. Why is it so difficult for us to support something that is good for the community? I live in an area that’s loaded with prostitutes and johns and I am sick of it. I can’t empty my garbage or open the garage door without seeing used condoms. The solution is not always moving (we’re stuck). Let’s try to work together to clean up this problem. I appauld Ald. Ervin for trying to do something vs nothing.

  5. thats a racist comment “we as blacks” I think white and hispanic and chinese live in the ward to.its that attitude that keeps the west side down.actually prostitution arrsests are down in the 11th and 15th districts,yet herion arrests are on the rise.looks like 4 more years of nothing.and why does alderman ervin still go to his office in maywood??? hmmm but you can find ed smith always at the aldermans office.hmmm

  6. This is a minimal step that Ervin has taken for his newly appointed position. Pam, “the get along to go along attitude” has got to stop especially in our community (me assuming of course that your comment was targeted at African-Americans.) African-American has been told what is right for us and what we should do for way too many years without evening questioning it. And when questions are raised with valid reasoning the inquirer is viewed as being a troublemaker or an adversary which is untrue. Pam’s comments demonstrate that same philosophy. When I initially read the article, I immediately thought about the legal ramifications of the johns and prostitutes who worked, resided and used the through roadways this was before I could even finish perusing the article. This ordinance would be illegal especially if either individual is a taxpayer. The ACLU would be all over this law which places a bandage on a more serious problem. How about the city of Chicago provide counseling and supportive services to these working women and find out the reason why they are out there and transition them from off the stroll. Besides if the women are fined how will they pay the fine?
    Prostitution is not a major problem in Ervin’s ward. However voter’s fraud is a major problem that plagues his entire ward which I am sure that Ervin would know about. So maybe he could work on legislation that would allow everyone’s vote to be counted fairly by first restructuring the Chicago Board of Elections which is appointed by the Mayor. This type of ordinance would help everyone including those residing outside of this ward.
    DRUGS are the main issue which has diseased his ward and in a lot of African-American & Latino communities. Properties aren’t even worth the same in our communities compared to non-black and latino wards which this greatly impacts. Kids can’t even go outside and play because of the drug activities. Going to the trash can and witnessing a johns and prostitution can not nearly have the same effect as a child witnessing men standing on the corners selling and drug abusers getting high and small zip lock baggies littering the ground. DRUG abuse causes your insurance to be sky high. Since we have crack & heroin addicted individuals who break into dwelling and steal.
    There are much bigger fish to fry besides prostitution. However since this problem is contained, Pam could every well start a group of concerned residents and create a group to stop the activity of prostitution by patrolling and utilizing the police. Write down the license plates numbers of johns and video tape what you see and proactively call the police department.

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