Formerly prostituted women active in a CCH survivors’ group helped secure legislative support for a new law that ends felony-level charges for prostitution in Illinois.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 1872 into law on August 23. Passed by the General Assembly with bi-partisan support, the law takes effect immediately.
Legislators spoke on the floor of the State Senate and elsewhere about how they were persuaded to support SB 1872 by the testimony of a CCH community leader, Glenda Sykes.
As a leader in CCH’s SAGE group (Survivor Advocacy Group Empowered) and an early graduate of Cook County’s WINGS Court, Glenda testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. She spoke about the difficulties she faced trying to find a nursing job and rebuild her life with a felony record for prostitution.
Last month, CCH honored several legislators including State Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from downstate Mattoon who planned to argue against SB 1872 – but instead, he helped secure bi-partisan support. SB 1872 first passed the Senate by a 53-1 vote on April 11.
“When Glenda started to testify,” Sen. Righter said, accepting his award, “I just sat up to listen. In 16 years, I’ve never had a single witness turn my opinion on a bill like that. I ended up speaking for the bill on the floor of the Senate.”
Added Sen. Righter, “There are a lot of serious problems in our state today, but none of them can’t be solved as long as there are people who have the courage, like Glenda showed that day, to tell their story and reach out and say come here and help me solve this problem.”
CCH also honored SB 1872’s legislative sponsors, State Sen. John Mulroe and State Rep. Michael Zalewski (both D-Chicago).
Illinois was one of only eight states that employ this harsher and more costly level of sentencing for prostitution, with someone eligible for a felony-level charge sending them to prison after one prior conviction.
SAGE leaders were asked to speak in support of SB 1872. The measure was proposed by End Demand Illinois, a coalition directed by CAASE that includes Project IRENE and Protestants for the Common Good. CCH also led Springfield-based advocacy for three earlier End Demand bills enacted the prior three years. These include a 2010 state law that requires prostituted minors be treated as victims, not criminals, who are to be referred to child welfare authorities.
Community Organizer Rachel Ramirez helped leaders found CCH’s SAGE group in 2012, developing leadership from her shelter outreach at programs assisting women ex-offenders. SAGE works in partnership with CCH’s Prostitution Alternatives Round Table, now staffed by Jennifer Cushman. The groups’ work is supported by project-based grants from the Sisters of Charity, BVM.
– Anne Bowhay, Media