CHICAGO – Gov. Rod Blagojevich today signed House Bill 1469 making it easier to prosecute human trafficking offenders and to assist victims. Illinois also joined the federal government in launching the nation’s largest coalition to address the growing phenomenon of human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in conjunction with the Blagojevich administration today unveiled a public awareness campaign to combat human trafficking. The campaign includes outreach and training to local social service organizations, law enforcement and health care professionals.
“Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery, and sadly it exists here in Illinois and all across America,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Young children, teenagers, men and women are promised jobs and better lives here in the United States, but for thousands, once they’re here, they are forced to live and work in abysmal conditions, they’re paid pitiful wages, and some are forced into the sex trade. Today we’re taking this crime on in two ways: we’re putting strong penalties in the law that will deal severely with people who force others into servitude, and we’re partnering with the federal government in launching the Rescue and Restore campaign to help law enforcement officers, health care workers and social worker spot victims of human trafficking so we can help them rebuild their lives.”
House Bill 1469, sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Chavez (D-Cicero) and state Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), establishes penalties for the offenses of involuntary servitude, sexual servitude of a minor and trafficking of persons for forced labor and services. Forcing a person into servitude will range from a Class 4 to a Class X felony if kidnapping or injury is involved.
The bill also allows for restitution to pay back a victim for forced labor. In addition, the law allows IDHS, to provide emergency victim services.
“Human trafficking is the new slave trade. It's time to stop looking at this as a third world problem and recognize that it's happening right here, right now. Thousands of women and children are taken from their homes every year and forced onto streets to sell their bodies or to deal drugs against their will. They're so terrified they don't know where to turn for help. This is happening in our communities right under our noses and it's time we do something to help,” said Rep. Chavez.
“People leave their countries and families with promises of a better life, and instead they find themselves struggling to survive in a life of slavery or prostitution. Human trafficking is a silent problem that most people in this country are not familiar with. This legislation gives prosecutors the tools that they need to prosecute those guilty of these terrible acts, and help victims get their lives back,” Chavez added.
“The real benefit of signing this bill into law is that victims will have access to federal assistance after successful state prosecution,” said Sen. Cullerton.
The U.S. government estimates that 14,000-17,500 people are trafficked into the United States annually. Victims are trafficked across international borders from such regions as Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Former Soviet Union and Africa to work in labor and sex trades. After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing.
Recently, police and federal prosecutors in Rockford shut down several health spas that authorities say operated as brothels with potential trafficking victims. In 2002, a Russian trafficker was prosecuted for forcing several Latvian women to work in Chicago-area strip clubs. These examples highlight the prevalence of human trafficking in Illinois and the overwhelming need to reach out and assist trafficking victims.
Illinois is the first state to form this unique collaboration with HHS, lending its extensive network to form a local Rescue and Restore coalition that includes the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the Illinois State Police (ISP), Department of Children and Family Services, (DCFS), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Human Rights (DHR), Chicago’s Heartland Alliance and some 70 other agencies and organizations.
“This partnership between HHS, the Governor and various state agencies is necessary to help identify and assist more victims,” said Wade F. Horn, Ph.D., HHS’ assistant secretary for children and families. “It is our hope that increased awareness and involvement at all levels of government will lead to the restoration of victims.”
The campaign to Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking aims to educate Americans about the problem of human trafficking and how they can help victims in their community. As part of the campaign, a major component that will be highlighted is the toll-free Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline, 1.888.373.7888, designated to provide assistance to organizations and victims of trafficking. The hotline helps organizations and victims of trafficking by providing instant referrals to pre-screened aid organizations in their city.
As victims of human trafficking look like many of the people we see everyday, HHS provides information that will help citizens to look beneath the surface to identify and assist victims. Below are some of the key clues Illinois residents should look for.
Look for the Following Clues:
- Evidence of being controlled
- Evidence of inability to move or leave job
- Bruises or signs of physical abuse
- Fear or depression
- No passport or other forms of identification
If trafficking is suspected, call the toll-free Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline – 1-888-373-7888.
The Illinois coalition will train potential “first responders” - such as law enforcement, health care workers, and social workers to spot possible victims and direct them into federally funded victim services. Specifically, IDHS, while leading the coalition, will train social and health service workers in its domestic violence, homeless youth, and immigrant and refugee services. DCFS will use web-based technology to train its 700 investigators. DOL will train its nine compliance officers to spot potential labor trafficking activity as they investigate complaints in the day labor industry. IDPH will train program outreach workers, case managers, and Refugee Health Screening Program site coordinators and nine participating health departments. ISP will train its approximately 1,800 sworn police officers and work with the Regional Institute for Community Policing (RICP) as it offers a U.S. Department of Justice funded “train the trainer” curriculum on human trafficking to law enforcement officials and other community leaders.
The seventy-plus coalition members will generate a public awareness campaign, peppering the state with thousands of hotline-posters and flyers. Further, these organizations will have opportunities to attend awareness trainings on human trafficking, beginning June 8 at Northwestern Law School in Chicago.
Once a victim is identified, they are referred to Chicago's Heartland Alliance for certification of victim status. Certified trafficking victims are granted access to federal benefits and services through a special T-visa. Inquiries about the victim certification process and past successes rescuing and certifying victims should be made to Katherine Kaufka at Heartland Alliance - 312.660.1311.
“Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights is pleased to join the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee and Resettlement (ORR) in its Rescue and Restore Campaign Initiative to ensure that victims of human trafficking are able to access protection and receive comprehensive legal and social services,” said Sid Rev. Dr. Sid L. Mohn, President, Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights.