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The Legal Side of the Sizzlin' Chicago Sexpo

By Kate Gardiner in News on May 4, 2009 6:20PM

Photo by Kate Gardiner
There are a variety of reasons one goes to Chicago’s Sexpo: pretty mostly naked people, the women’s lingerie show, adult entertainment networking or, oddly enough, legal counseling.

Speaking at Wednesday’s affair at Excalibur, attorney JD Obenberger said that he thinks sex workers in Chicago are easy targets - and that’s why they’ve become scapegoats for politically-ambitious Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. Obenberger spoke to a tiny group of people high in the rafters above the gyrating dance floors late Wednesday night and said one of the bones of contention in Chicago’s adult entertainment industry right now is Dart's federal lawsuit against the erotic services section of Craigslist.

"Dart's picking on Cook County prostitutes," Obenberger said. "Because he can with impunity. It's still embarrassing to be associated with prostitutes in the main stream, and if he looks like he's enforcing the laws, he'll get the headlines. And he hopes to get elected."

"But if he's going to enforce that law, why not enforce all the other laws [related to sexual practice]?" Obenberger continued. "In Cook County, adultery is still a crime, as is criminal fornication. He never picks on the people who are committing adultery - and they never complain."

“What Dart’s doing is tyranny and un-American,” Obenberger said. “When my Sicilian grandmother came to this country, she did not come here to judge others on their morality or their decency. She came for liberty. And to earn that liberty, you have to accept each others’ differences.”

According to Obenberger, prostitution has only been illegal in Illinois since 1961. “In the 1870s, they said no persons under the age of 16 in bordellos,” he said. “In the 1910s and 20s, they banned street walkers and brothels. But it wasn’t until 1961 that they banned the prostitutes.”

He argues that criminalizing prostitutes for participating in sex work does more harm than good, if only because the participants cannot defend themselves from violent clients and theft, or call the cops for back up in dangerous situations. But Obenberger seems to expect a long wait, something that Adult Performer Educators organizer William Takahashi said he doesn’t want to hang around for.

"We don't really have any statistics about how many disabled people use adult services," said Takahasi. "But we're trying to reach more people about the problem," he continued. "Part of the problem with adult entertainment venues is that they need to make themselves more disabled-friendly." Takahashi said he hopes his organization will help to educate more people about how to best work with disabled clients. "There's a great need for more adult entertainers who understand how to work with disabled people," he said.

The adult entertainers - three floors of them - seemed unaware of Takahashi’s wheelchair-bound plight. But, he said, he hoped the event informed a few more people about the problems his fellows face.