CHICAGO – August 20, 2010. Governor Pat Quinn today signed the Illinois Safe Children Act into law. The new law protects children in Illinois from being forced into the sex trade and gives law enforcement additional tools to fight the human-trafficking groups that exploit them. It also stops the criminal prosecution of victimized children and ensures they receive the necessary protective services.
“For too long, exploited children have been treated as criminals, while the adults who stole their innocence go free,” said Governor Quinn. “Illinois does not tolerate exploitation of our children. Today, we give important new tools to aid law enforcement in this fight and help our victimized children to heal.”
The Illinois Safe Children Act makes Illinois one of the first states to pass comprehensive legislation to address the human trafficking of children under the age of 18. The new law ensures that innocent children who are lured or coerced into prostitution will now be immune from criminal prosecution and will be placed in the child protection system instead of the criminal justice system.
Victims under the age of 18 will now be presumed abused or neglected and can be placed in a secure setting until a proper placement is found. Law enforcement must now report an allegation of human trafficking of a child to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), which must conduct an investigation within 24 hours.
Illinois’ laws regarding the sexual exploitation of children will now recognize that anyone under the age of 18 is a child victim, conforming to federal law and state’s human-trafficking laws. The act removes references to “juvenile prostitutes” in Illinois’ criminal code, recognizing that children have no capacity to consent to their own commercial sexual exploitation and are victims of a serious sexual offense.
The new law allows the same legal tools used to fight groups selling drugs to be used against groups who traffic children. It supports investigations of these organized crime rings by adding the offenses of human trafficking and juvenile pimping to the list of offenses subject to court-ordered interceptions (wire taps). Additionally, it allows officer-safety recordings to protect undercover officers during dangerous sex-trafficking investigations.
The act allows law enforcement to impound any vehicle used for a variety of human-trafficking and prostitution-related crimes, creating a funding mechanism to support victim services and police operations. The act also limits the defense argument of pimps or traffickers who say that they “believed” that a prostituted child was at least 18 years old.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was instrumental to passage of the legislation and her office has led the charge in efforts to proactively address the issue by forming a specialized Human Trafficking Initiative and creating partnerships with social service providers to offer services for children who fall prey to sex trafficking.
"Many people consider the sex trafficking of children to be an international issue and not a problem that impacts us here right in our own communities, but that is not the case at all," Alvarez said. "The Illinois Safe Children Act is landmark legislation that will provide police and prosecutors with the tools that we need to aggressively tackle this crime. This new law will also put Illinois at the forefront of states who have enacted new laws to protect children from the horrors of sex trafficking."
In addition to the new law, DCFS is currently establishing an allegation of Human Trafficking of a Child in child protection investigations. Law enforcement officers and mandated reporters of abuse and neglect will be required to report to the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline whenever they have reason to suspect that a minor has been exploited by traffickers, and DCFS will investigate the allegation and provide protective, supportive and therapeutic services to these child victims.
House Bill 6462 was sponsored by Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) and Rep. Will Burns (D-Chicago) and takes effect immediately.