Someone you should know: Jody Raphael

Jody Raphael is an attorney and senior research fellow at the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, DePaul University College of Law.

Ms. Raphael began her work on behalf of women and girls in the sex trade industry 12 years ago. After numerous interviews with survivors of prostitution, she began to understand that a vast number of them were poor victims of childhood sexual assault who were recruited into the sex trade and held there by violence and threats of violence. Since 1990 she has worked tirelessly to produce evidence of that fact and to let the voices of these girls and women be heard in the public policy arena. These efforts have begun to bear fruit in legislation and new practices that view these girls and women as victims and seek to preserve and enhance their rights. Ms. Raphael was one of the pioneers in this effort nationwide.

Ms. Raphael has produced three major pieces of work that have had a wide influence on the debate both here in Illinois and in the country. First was her 2004 book, Listening to Olivia: Violence, Poverty, and Prostitution, (Northeastern University Press), which tells the story of Chicago native Olivia Howard. Olivia entered prostitution as a stripper at age 16 and spent 19 years in the sex trade industry, ending up on heroin on the street, controlled by a violent pimp. This story, interspersed with the accounts of other prostitution survivors, demonstrated that Olivia’s entry into prostitution as a teen was not totally voluntary, described the violence she experienced from customers and pimps, and how that violence and drug abuse (self-medication) trapped her in the industry. The book was an attempt to give full humanity to a person in prostitution, to show how she was a woman like any other deserving to live a life free of violence and humiliation. At the same time it demonstrated the indifference of police, medical personnel, judges, and customers to her plight and how that indifference more worked to trap her in a life of violence.

In 2008, Ms. Raphael undertook research with 100 girls in the sex trade industry in the Chicago metropolitan area who were under the control of a pimp. The research was undertaken to determine how these women became ensnared in pimp-controlled prostitution and why they could not escape. Her research, entitled Domestic Sex Trafficking of Chicago Women and Girls, found that 10% of the girls had been put out in prostitution by their families at very young ages. Another 35% had been recruited into the industry by a person serving as a boyfriend, who then became the girl’s pimp. The girls related the many instances of violence and threats of violence they currently experienced.

In 2010, Ms. Raphael undertook research with 25 ex-pimps in Chicago, entitled From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago. This report documented the recruitment techniques used by pimps and traffickers in Chicago, confirming the exploitative actions of pimp boyfriends. As the pimps recruited girls under the age of 18, all met the definition of traffickers in U.S. anti-trafficking legislation. (2000). Interestingly, the research also demonstrated that all the pimps (seven of whom were women) all had sold sex prior to becoming pimps and traffickers and many had been forced into the sex trade industry against their will. Graduating to pimping was a promotion and a relief, demonstrating how victims can then become victimizers as they stay within the sex trade industry to exercise control over their lives.

Ms. Raphael has also studied and written about sexual assault. Only 11% of rape cases reported to law enforcement in Illinois result in an arrest, when the national rate is 25%, down from 50% in the 1970s. Arrest rates in other violent crimes have held steady. These data mean that victims of rape rarely can hold the rapist accountable, who is then free to rape with impunity. These rape victims, who have already experienced humiliating and frightful violations, are abused again when law enforcement and the legal system refuses to take their claims seriously.

Ms. Raphael has spent six years investigating the causes of this situation, interviewing numerous rape survivors whose cases were not taken. The result is a new book being published in April 2013 by Chicago Review Press, Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming are Fuelling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis. A review of her book from Publisher’s Weekly states in part, “Raphael presents clear statistics on rape prevalence and reporting, consistent with a number of studies often ignored by policymakers and the press. She juxtaposes this research with firsthand interviews with acquaintance-rape victims and in-depth discussions of recent rape cases in the news, including those involving the Duke Lacrosse team and Julian Assange. The result is a compelling, grim account of the struggle for victims of sexual violence to be heard and believed.”

Furthermore, as a result of Ms. Raphael’s extensive data research on the Domestic Violence Courthouse in Cook County, published in 2005 and subject to front page coverage from the Chicago Tribune, the Circuit Court established a special study committee, followed by a new Domestic Violence Division of the Circuit Court and a new presiding judge. These structural improvements have enabled the new division to begin other efforts to remedy some serious problems with the domestic violence docket. Although battered and abused women come to the court and obtain emergency orders of protection, many do not return for a plenary order so that the emergency order dissolves. Additionally, many are unable to obtain an emergency order because they lack the ability to represent themselves pro se. In cooperation with the presiding judge, Ms. Raphael worked to create The Domestic Violence Pilot Project, in which over 200 DePaul law students have provide assistance to petitioners with their paperwork and their affidavit since February 2011. Almost 1400 petitioners have been assisted to date, and 85% have been successful in obtaining emergency orders of protection. Students volunteer three hours a week. They interview petitioners, assist with the required paperwork, and accompany petitioners to the courtroom. Importantly, after interviewing the petitioner, they type up a written affidavit on their laptop computers, which is printed out and attached to the petition.

Ms. Raphael has found that students at the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center gain immeasurably from involvement in the project. Students enjoy directly helping people and believe that their skills rapidly develop. As one student said, “I thought this project was an amazing opportunity to develop skills outside of the classroom. It helped give meaning to my week when I was buried in my textbooks.” Students have also told her that they took pride in seeing how petitioners felt empowered by the experience: “Watching their moods change from being overwhelmed or upset at the beginning of a session to feeling accomplished and safe after getting an emergency order of protection is a great feeling.” Students, many for the first time, also learn about domestic violence and become aware and sensitive to the issue.

Making certain that the legal system is responsive to the needs of domestic violence victims-and other violence victims, including those sexually assaulted and sexually exploited in the sex trade industry-has been a priority since January 2004, when attorney and scholar Jody Raphael joined the Center on a full-time basis as senior research fellow. Ms. Raphael works full-time on research and advocacy to hold the legal system accountable. She provides overall supervision of the Domestic Violence Pilot Project. ■


Melissa Olivero is an administrative law judge. Melissa has previously practiced as a prosecutor, labor-management relations attorney, and insurance defense attorney. She resides in Peru, Illinois.

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May 2013Volume 18Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)