21st century slavery

By Gregory Cappis

A toddler crawls into his mother’s bed to wake her in the middle of the night. The startled mom lifts her hand to defend herself but realizes just in time that she was having a flashback to a horrific event in her past, and it is her flesh and blood in front of her. The trembling mother caresses her son and holds him close as he drifts back to sleep. The mother lies awake shaking, thinking about a time when she had to fight every day.

This is the story of Amanda, who chose not to include her last name to protect her identity. She was one of 100,000 victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. during a single year. She shared her story on Sept. 19 with a crowd at Park Community Church, 1001 N. Crosby St. Where the International Justice Mission was hosting forum on human trafficking to inform Chicagoans about the $32 billion- a-year business and encouraged people to take action.

Amanda ran away from her home near U.S. Cellular Field, 333 W. 35th St., when she was 15 years old. Within an hour she was abducted and forced into the sex trade. She spent more than two years of her childhood chained to a bed where she was raped and beaten multiple times a day.

“I was terrified. I was alone, and I wanted to die,” she said, while fighting back tears.

Every day she would fight the pimp and johns who walked through the bedroom door. The men began injecting her with drug-filled syringes so she would stop fighting.

She managed to escape from bondage, and now at 23 years old, she is still recovering from the two years she spent in the house where her bathroom was a coffee can.

She said the organization that captured her is composed of smart individuals who have no remorse.

Chicago is a domestic hub for trafficking in the U.S. because of O’Hare Airport and the vast size of the city, said JR Kerr, teaching pastor at Park Community Church.

His goal is to have the city free of human trafficking by 2020.

Holly Burkhalter, vice president of government relations for the International Justice Mission, said she sees this as a definite possibility if enough people join the fight.

In late August, the Chicago Police Department broke up a sex trafficking ring after an 18-month investigation. Ten people have been charged. It was the first time wiretaps were used to investigate human trafficking.

“It didn’t make sense to us that we could use wiretaps to go after and investigate people who are selling drugs but not people who are selling children,” said Jennifer Greene, violence against women policy advisor to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.

In 2010, Illinois passed the Safe Children’s Act. It states that any child engaged in prostitution cannot be charged. It raised penalties on these types of crimes and allowed wiretaps to be used in investigations. It also forced law enforcement to take child prostitutes into custody and refer them to the Department of Children and Family Services, which then opens an investigation.

IJM worked with the local government in Chennai, India, to rescue more than 500 people from slavery, Burkhalter said.

Each year 600,000 to 800,000 people become victims of human trafficking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the second largest criminal industry in the world behind drug dealing.

Congressman Peter Roskam, Republican of the 6th District, encouraged everyone in attendance at the forum to get involved in the fight to end human trafficking.

“We are all trusted with something, the ability to impact policy, neighbors and resources in ways past generations could never dream of,” Roskam said. “What do we do with that?”

It is not enough to just sign the petition or send an email, he added. He challenged everyone to take a stand and make this an issue with every policy maker and government official.

Amanda credits the Dreamcatcher Foundation, an organization devoted to helping victims of sex trafficking, for saving her life.

When she finally escaped imprisonment, she had to go to drug rehab.

“If it wasn’t for the Dreamcatcher Foundation, I would have killed myself,” Amanda said. “I started cutting myself because I thought something was wrong with me. I thought it was my fault that I was stuck in that house.”

Other organizations such as Traffic Free are working to eradicate the problem from America and the rest of the world.

Lynne Hybels, moderator of the event, relayed a story about her friend in California who became so angered by the situation, that he decided to start an organization to get men involved in the fight to end human trafficking, she said.

He told her, “Men have largely been responsible for creating this problem and better men need to solve it.”