- Published: 11 March 2015
SPRINGFIELD – Most people would not point to an arrest and say that it was the moment that saved their lives. For Janell Wheeler, the last time she was arrested may very well have served as a final lifeline in what seemed a hopeless, vicious cycle.
Wheeler was raised by her mother in Chicago, but unfortunately a family trauma led her to seek shelter on the streets. She met a man and then began dating him, thinking they were in love. He forced Wheeler into selling her body on the streets, a deal from which her pimp profited and Wheeler received little more than room and board.
Wheeler was often abused for not making enough money or refusing to work. She suffered burns from a curling iron, was hit so hard her eardrum ruptured and was beaten and forced to work the streets with a broken leg.
As a result of her final arrest and sentencing, Wheeler ultimately entered the WINGS and Feathers Program, which is a sex trafficking rehabilitation program in Cook County. Wheeler has since earned her high school diploma. She was also assisted in finding housing and part-time employment through WINGS and Feathers. But not all victims of trafficking are so fortunate.
Wheeler was in Springfield today testifying before the Senate Criminal Law Committee in support of Senate Bill 1588, which would amend the current criminal code and provides affirmative defense when charged with prostitution for victims of sex trafficking. The measure is sponsored by Senator John Mulroe (D-Chicago).
“Ms. Wheeler’s testimony was heartbreaking,” said Mulroe. “This legislation is an attempt to free women who are trapped in the inhuman enterprise of trafficking and help them safely emerge from unspeakable acts by despicable criminals.”
Mulroe’s legislation now advances to the full Senate for debate.
Click the link below for a video with Janell's story.