Fighting Human Trafficking Here at Home

by Carol Merna
Center for Prevention of Abuse

Millions of women, men and children around the world—including here in central Illinois—are modern-day slaves.

Lynn, a woman in her 60s, was held captive inside a home in an affluent neighborhood, forced to work as a domestic servant for little pay, required to sleep on the laundry room floor, and fed just one meal a day. This went on for seven years before she escaped to find help.

Crystal, 22, met up with a man she met on the internet. He kidnapped her, brutally abused her, forced her into prostitution, and to show his ownership of her, branded her with two tattoos on her face.

These women were victims of human trafficking; they were modern-day slaves. Both of these scenarios are true stories, and both Lynn and Crystal came to the Center for Prevention of Abuse for care.

On January 4, 2018, the Center for Prevention of Abuse (CFPA) was proud to reveal the creation of a new department, Human Trafficking Services, to care for victims of modern-day slavery—those exploited through force, fraud or coercion into involuntary labor or the commercial sex trade. Much like the services CFPA provides to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or elder abuse, we welcome all those looking to live free from violence and abuse, including victims of human trafficking.

Slavery Has Not Ended
History tells us that slavery was widely practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The movement to abolish slavery gained strength and found success when on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring, “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State… in rebellion… shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

Still, the harsh fact remains that millions of women, men and children around the world—including here in central Illinois—are modern-day slaves. We have seen with certainty that the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking is prosperous in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. Of the clients we have identified and cared for, just three are foreign-born. Fifteen percent came to us from out-of-state, 10 percent were from the Chicago area, and a full 70 percent are from right here at home, native to central Illinois. Slavery has not ended.

Traffickers use violence, threats, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion and manipulation to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex or work in many different industries against their will. Those who perpetuate human trafficking most often target vulnerable populations, including runaways, homeless youth, and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or social discrimination. People might be lured by false promises by someone they know, love and trust—or a complete stranger. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimates that one in six endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims.

Stopping the Horrors
Kayla was born into a home struggling with poverty to a mother who was battling drug abuse. At the age of six, her mother sold her to a man who controlled her every moment. Kayla was a victim of child sex trafficking. Sold more than once, she was abused, exploited and trafficked until her 20s, when she obtained help.

Jamil, 17, joined a traveling sales crew after running away from home; his boss promised him a better life of travel and profits. Reality hit when Jamil was never paid and his boss told him they would leave him on the side of the road if he didn’t meet his quota of selling magazines and books.

These scenarios are not uncommon. There are many innocent and vulnerable young people who are victims of those who are trafficking them.

CFPA is not only providing quality care for survivors of human trafficking; we are also devoting a considerable amount of time and talent helping to train first responders to identify cases of trafficking when they come across it, and what to do when victims are discovered. It is our privilege to work hand in hand with police, fire, rescue and healthcare professionals to keep our communities and neighborhoods safe for all people, regardless of age, background or belief.

Red Flags and Indicators
Do you suspect someone you know is being trafficked? Recognizing the red flags and key indicators are important steps to helping victims find the help they need. Common venues for human trafficking include escort services, illicit massage facilities, hotels and hospitality venues, carnivals, restaurant and food service, traveling sales crews, pornography, factories and manufacturing work, domestic work and more. Some questions to ask which may indicate human trafficking include:

  • Is the person free to leave, or come and go as he/she wishes?
  • Are they under the age of 18 and involved in commercial sex acts?
  • Do they work excessively long or unusual hours?
  • Are they unpaid or paid very little?
  • Does the person appear coached about what to say?
  • Are they fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, disoriented or nervous?
  • Do they avoid eye contact?
  • Are they fearful of law enforcement?
  • Do they appear malnourished or show other signs of physical abuse?

For a comprehensive list of indicators and information on how to make a report, visit the Center for Prevention of Abuse website at centerforpreventionofabuse.org.

Please join us in our fight against human trafficking. Let’s work to build a future where no people are denied their inherent human rights of freedom and dignity. To ask questions, or to offer support, please visit us online or call (309) 691-0551 or 1-800-559-SAFE. We’re available 24 hours a day, helping all people who come to us find peace. iBi

Carol Merna is Executive Director of the Center for Prevention of Abuse. All names have been changed to protect the victims’ identity.

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