Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that occurs in every state, including Illinois. Statistics show that Illinois ranks in the top 10 nationwide in human trafficking cases. In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 243 cases in Illinois, with 355 victims reported.
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. These acts involve victims of all ages, races and genders, and the victims can be lured into these situations by violence, manipulation, false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships.
Traffickers look for people who may be considered easy targets due to economic hardship, psychological or emotional vulnerability, natural disasters, political instability, or lack of a social safety net. The most common types of trafficking reported were for sexual exploitation, including for illegal spa businesses, online ads, pornography, and commercial sex. Other cases involved labor trafficking and panhandling. Victims were overwhelmingly female, with 195 reported as opposed to 28 males in the statistics from 2021.
Many victims of human trafficking are trauma bonded with their abusers, making it hard for them to separate themselves. Traffickers prey on people who are most vulnerable or express some sort of need. Poverty is a main reason as well why individuals may be more susceptible to trafficking, with false promises of employment or financial stability being made. A common misconception about human trafficking is that it only involves people from other countries, but that is not true. Victims come from all ages and all nationalities, and not all situations involve strangers. One in four victims is a child, and in some cases they can be trafficked by family members.
Illinois’ location makes it an unfortunate nexus for human trafficking, with several major airports and highways that connect it to other parts of the country. Illinois is considered a central transportation hub for traffickers to transport victims in and out of the state.
The human trafficking crisis in Cook County surged this past October, with the sheriff reporting a record number of human trafficking cases over a two-week period. Ten arrests were made during that time in connection with sex trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography. Four individuals were arrested for operating a brothel. Some of the arrests were tied to websites that were involved with illegal activities.
In August, an Illinois State Police operation to combat human trafficking resulted in the arrests of eight men who were seeking to engage in commercial sex acts with minors in the Springfield area. The eight men, with ages ranging from 28 to 52, were all charged with indecent solicitation of a child and traveling to meet a minor. There was one charge of sexual exploitation of a child. The Sangamon County State’s Attorney also provided support for the operation.
Earlier this summer in the Metro East, seven men were arrested as part of a human trafficking sting. Five of the offenders were from Missouri, and two from Illinois. ISP and law enforcement agencies in St. Clair County and O’Fallon all provided support, with the men facing charges of indecent solicitation of a child, traveling to meet a child, and grooming and solicitation of a sexual act.
Human trafficking charges were also brought forth this past summer in Chicago’s western suburbs. Five people were charged with commercially sex trafficking seven women by causing or threatening harm to at least one person, according to investigators. The charges were brought forth by the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office and St. Charles Police Department. The investigation initially discovered a brothel in St. Charles, and that led to larger operations discovered in Aurora, Chicago, Elgin, Hanover Park, unincorporated Palatine, and South Elgin. All of the female victims were flown to the U.S. from South America for trafficking purposes, officials said. All of the offenders faced felony charges and were given $5 million bail with a $500,000 bond.
A Normal man was sentenced in 2022 to 10 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release for sex trafficking a minor. The man rented hotel rooms in the Peoria area, transported a minor female victim to the hotels, and offered her controlled substances. The suspect used online advertisements to solicit men to have sex with the girl and then collected payment for the act. The FBI Springfield Office, Bloomington Police Department, and McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office were all involved with the investigation.
Recognizing the signs of human trafficking is the first step in identifying potential victims and helping to save lives. Do not at any time attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. Your safety as well as the victim’s safety is paramount. Individuals are advised to contact local law enforcement, ICE, or the National Human Trafficking Hotline. There are numerous common indicators of human trafficking, which can be found here.