On August 6 and 7, the Cook County Trafficking Task Force held its 5th annual Human Trafficking Task Force Conference at Kent Law School. JCAST Chicago members and staff Donna Gutman, Laura Englander, Deborah Zionts, Julie Newman and Melissa Prober attended the amazing two day event which kicked off with opening remarks from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Zac Fardon, US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
The first plenary session featured Rachel Lloyd, Founder and Executive Director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, (GEMS). Ms. Lloyd’s talk suggested we re-focus our thoughts and our energies. The real face of trafficking is so much more than the image of the young child trapped in a cage. It’s also the 16-year-old runaway and the 25-year-old single mother and the 35-year-old drug addict. All victims of sex trafficking. Victims of sex trafficking do not have to be chained to a bed to feel like they can’t leave and you don’t have to be from another country to feel like you don’t have options in this country.
But the fight to end trafficking has multiple facets – prevention, assistance and long-term support. Freeing someone is not where the story ends. To start, at-risk youth need positive adult role models – the presence of just one healthy positive consistent adult in a young person’s life can offset many risk factors and build resiliency. Become a mentor; be consistent; offer a safe place. Focus and funnel your energy and passion into something that will make a long-term difference such as child welfare reform or anti-poverty reform. For ongoing support, fight for access to food stamps, affordable housing, living wage employment, and child care.
Following the opening plenary, there were eighteen additional sessions over the course of the two day conference covering all aspects of human trafficking. Some of the most powerful speakers included Marian Hatcher, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and Dunna Gutman, CEASE (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation) Network, Meredith Dank, Urban Institute, Erin Wirsing, Devereux Florida, Stacy Sloan, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Rebecca Bender, Rebecca Bender Ministries, Anne Ream, the Voices and Faces Project, and others. There are too many sessions to list here in detail but a few are highlighted below.
Donna Gutman and Marian Hatcher gave an amazing presentation offering much insight into the work of the Cook County Sheriff’s office as well as the CEASE Network, a collaboration of pioneering cities committed to reducing sex-buying by 20 percent in two years. The Sheriff’s Office is trying a number of different techniques to reduce demand. For example, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office spearheaded the “National Day of Johns Arrests” in more than 100 different cities. Chicago may be called the second city, but it is one of top cities for sex trafficking. Others include Las Vegas and Dallas. Sex ‘work’ is not ‘work’ – it’s based on survival, coercion. The CEASE Network is looking to work with community service agencies.
Rebecca Bender, a trafficking survivor, took us inside the mind of a survivor when she shared her story. After graduating at the top of her Oregon High School class, this 19-year-old-single mother was convinced by a boyfriend to join him in Las Vegas. From there she was trafficked. Rebecca wasn’t beaten by her trafficker, nor was her child in danger, but as was repeated by several of the presenters: You don’t have to be chained to a bed to feel like you are trapped. Without money or credit, transportation or identification, where can a trafficking victim run? Only after Rebecca’s trafficker was arrested on charges of fraud and tax evasion was she able to escape and restart her life.
Presenter Stacy Sloan discussed domestic sex trafficking of youth and the intersection of child welfare. DCFS sees cases of abuse with allegations of trafficking, and/or cases of trafficking. With youth, there may not always be a pimp or trafficker involved. Youth, both straight and LGBTQ youth, may engage in survival sex, but the lack of a physical trafficker doesn’t make them any less a victim. The Illinois Safe Child Act ends the practice of prosecuting minors who have been prostituted, and instead ensure that exploited children receive a safe home and services.
Barry Koch, Western Union, Jacqueline D. Molnar, Western Union, Ernie Allen, Formerly of NCMEC/ICMEC and Elisa Massimino, Human Rights First discussed increasing the role of the financial industry in combatting trafficking. Banks have the ability to track perpetrators through credit card swipes. They can target frequent use of cards, large volume, and high risk industries. Western Union has been able to “follow the money” and assisted in arresting traffickers out of the Philippines. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world but the resources at work fighting trafficking are alarmingly low. The financial industry has an important role to play in assisting law enforcement in identifying traffickers by following the money trail and thereby reversing the risk-reward equation.
Anne Ream discussed how important “marketing” is to the movement to end sexual exploitation and trafficking. End Demand Illinois launched the Ugly Truth media campaign to raise awareness about the realities of the sex trade. The Ugly Truth campaign was created by The Voices and Faces Project to challenge public attitudes about sexual exploitation, prostitution, and sex trafficking. This campaign presented commonly held beliefs/myths about sexual exploitation along with the “ugly truth” in an attempt to shock people into action. An example of one of the presented myths was “If a woman chooses to sell her body that’s her business,” with the ugly truth being “prostitution is rarely a choice. Most prostituted people enter the sex trade while still in their teens after fleeing abusive homes. They’re coerced by pimps and johns who too often abuse them. Without economic support, breaking free is more difficult than you might think.”
There was so much more information presented during the two-day conference. If you are interested in learning more, contact email@example.com and we’d be happy to share more of what we learned. And save the date for next year’s conference, August 4 and 5, 2016!
– Contributors: Melissa Prober, Julie Newman and Laura Englander