As many as 25,000 people every year are the victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Illinois. As a hub for commerce and transportation, as well as the site of major events and attractions, Chicago and Illinois are a major target for human trafficking. State Senators Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) and Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) are taking a bipartisan approach to tackling this issue.
“Human trafficking exists and festers in the shadows, where it destroys innocent lives every day,” McConnaughay said. “Sometimes the best way to fight back is by shining a light.”
McConnaughay and Hutchinson hosted an event at the Illinois State Capitol on April 28th bringing together more than 20 organizations that fight human trafficking to not only honor these heroes, but also to help them advocate for their cause.
The event served as a means to increase public awareness of this terrible crime, to improve coordination between government agencies, law enforcement, and independent groups, and to honor the heroes who fight it every day.
Sen. Hutchinson spoke of the toll this terrible crime takes on its victims, “Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that primarily exploits young women by forcing them into involuntary servitude and prostitution. It’s all too easy to think of this as an abstract, global problem, but the truth is that this is happening in our own backyard. It’s unacceptable, and it’s time to speak up.”
Among the featured speakers at the April 28th, event was Brenda Myers-Powell, Executive Director of the Dreamcatcher Foundation and outspoken advocate for victims of human trafficking who have been forced into prostitution.
“In the words of Harriet Tubman, who stated she freed a thousand slaves, and if they knew that they were slaves, she could’ve freed 1,000 more. I’m so happy that we’re coming together in Illinois to free victims from human trafficking,” said Myers-Powell.
Brian Towne, Chairman of the Board of the IL State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s Office and LaSalle County States Attorney announced that the office will enhance training at the annual State’s Attorney conference this December, offer regional community-based training meetings throughout the state, and a push for funding for a week-long multi-disciplinary law enforcement training seminar based on the nationally recognized cook county model.
“One of the best things we can do to fight human trafficking in Illinois is to make sure that our law enforcement officers and prosecutors are properly educated on the issue,” said Towne. “By stepping up our training efforts we can ensure that we are better equipped to tackle this issue head-on.”
According to McConnaughay, this event will be just the first in a series of awareness and advocacy events on human trafficking throughout Illinois.