Human trafficking hits home

By Stephanie Saviola

Movies like “Taken,” which features an American girl who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Europe, or stories of children in Thailand being forced into slavery at young ages, often seem unrealistic. People struggle to believe something so daunting could take place this day in age, but in reality, it may be happening in your

own neighborhood.

Modern forms of slavery are occurring not only around the globe, but also in both suburban areas and the city of Chicago. Modern slavery ranges from forcing victims into labor services to something as severe as prostitution.

“One of the largest places where it happens is middle-class communities because people nowadays tend to mind their own business and they don’t pay attention to what’s going on,” said Marielle Sainvilus,communication manager for the Illinois Department of Human Services. “Often times they’ll break up brothels or find young girls

in subdivisions.”

On April 15,  Alex A. Campbell, also known as “Dave” or “Daddy” and Danielle John, also known as “Princess,” were charged with 10 counts of human trafficking in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division in the United States District Court for obtaining labor services and physically restraining, harming and threatening their victims from an estimated time frame of July 2008 to Jan. 13, 2010.

According to a court document, some of the victims were subjected to abuse in places such as residences, vehicles and massage parlors for purposes of commercial advantage and private financial gain. The court proceedings are being heard under United States Magistrate Judge Nan R. Nolan.

According to a 2001 Preliminary Prevalence report by the Center for Impact Research of Chicago, an estimated minimum of 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Chicago every year. And a 2003 New York Times article named Chicago a national hub for human trafficking due to the close proximity of O’Hare International Airport and major interstates.

On April 24, the Illinois Department of Human Services Rescue and Restore Coalition held its fifth annual Human Trafficking Outreach Day in partnership with the Salvation Army.

“One of the main things we do is get the hotline number out there, so we hang posters in areas all throughout Illinois and specifically Chicago, especially neighborhoods that are visible for high-trafficking areas,” Sainvilus said. “We are the fifth-largest area for phone calls so we are happy that it is working so people can see there is help out there.”

Thousands of volunteers and organizations such as Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, participated to spread the word about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number.

“We try to raise awareness about trafficking and particularly, commercial trafficking is rampant in this culture,” said Lynne Johnson, advocacy director for CAASE. “We see it everywhere. So when we think it doesn’t happen here, we are actually seeing it all the time, every day.”

Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation focuses on raising awareness against human trafficking and providing resource kits to communities. The organization also stresses the importance of prevention on the issue.

“Recently, we completed the first curriculum of its kind in the country to educate young boys [high school aged], particularly of the domestic sex trade,” Johnson said. “We raise awareness about ways they can become allies for women and girls rather than consumers in the sex trade.”

Additionally, the organization also provides a legal service program and an attorney to represent victims in an effort to help them seek justice against their traffickers.

The Salvation Army’s Partnership to Rescue Our Minors from Sexual Exploitation program, or PROMISE, is a task force formed to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Chicagoland area. The program is opening Anne’s House—a long-term, trauma-based residential home for girls who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

“The house will provide a nurturing, home-like environment in which girls will receive care in areas of individual trauma treatment, life-skills training, education, mentoring and special emphasis on breaking trauma bonds,” said Frank, a spokesperson for Anne’s House, who asked that his last name not be identified due to safety concerns.

According to the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues, in Cook County, places such as massage parlors and strip clubs often serve as a front for trafficking.

In January 2006, the Trafficking of Persons and Involuntary Servitude Act of Illinois went into effect, which helps increase access to health and social services and imposes severe penalties on traffickers. It also outlines three new criminal offenses: trafficking in persons for forced labor or services, involuntary servitude and involuntary servitude of a minor.

“We are glad local law enforcements are starting to be trained to realize the signs of human trafficking,” Sainvilus said. “Once we get them onboard to realize this is not just an international issue, they can realize a lot of these young people who are missing are not just runaways, they’ve been kidnapped and at times by their own family member.”

In early 2009, 44 adults were arrested in Chicago during a child prostitution sting and later that year, three women were rescued from an international trafficking ring in Cook County.

“This is the worst of the worst, it is subhuman behavior, really,” Frank said.