When someone says “human trafficking,” often times we view it as a problem far away from our shores that affects other people. It’s hard to imagine this modern day slavery is happening over here, hurting the people within our community each and every day. But the reality is just that: human trafficking is happening right here, right now. In Illinois, we have the 5th highest number of trafficking cases in the country, and Rockford is ranked second behind Chicago in human trafficking cases. This heinous crime affects all of us and we must work together to stop it.
This blog post is provided by Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-16). He represents the Rockford and Belvidere areas (among others). We are grateful for his support of The Salvation Army in the fight against human trafficking.
In October, I hosted a community forum on human trafficking with local leaders who deal with the issue from the front lines. We were fortunate to have representatives from The Salvation Army, Department of Homeland Security, Demand Abolition, Rockford Diocese & Catholic Charities, Rockford Police Department, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and Rockford Rescue Mission; and we were joined by nearly 200 concerned citizens. The forum focused on the issues we face in the Rockford area, but also how the problem is being handled and reported on a national scale. One of my big takeaways was community awareness – people seemed shocked to know the number of cases, the wide range of victims, and the impact this issue has on our community.
As we discussed at the forum, human trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender, social background, etc. The real life horrors of forced human labor can be hard to wrap our heads around, and it’s something many people might wish to ignore or avoid because it is so heinous. But human trafficking is happening and it contributes to other crimes in our community, making it a public safety concern as well. Trafficking affects our community by adding to our homeless population, increasing the distribution of drugs on our streets, and its affiliation with violence, especially gun violence. In fact, as our forum panelists discussed, many human trafficking cases in our area stem from domestic abuse and domestic violence. These trafficking victims need our help, and they deserve justice.
Here in Congress, we have several pieces of legislation pending to combat human trafficking from all angles.
This summer, with support from my colleague Rep. Kelly Robin (D-IL), I introduced the Reducing the Demand for Human Trafficking Act, which goes after the “demand” side of this horrible crime by empowering state and local law enforcement to track and arrest the buyers.
The SOAR Act (Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond to Health and Wellness Act), which my colleague Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and I have introduced, raises awareness of the Human Trafficking issue, and supports the training of healthcare workers to identify victims and best care for them through established protocols and procedures.
I believe these pieces of legislation can have a significant impact towards identifying cases of human trafficking and helping the most vulnerable and at-risk individuals from this evil crime. Having resources is imperative, but these measures will also help bring the victims much needed and deserved justice by further holding the perpetrators accountable.
As a community, we can raise our own awareness by knowing the signs of spotting potential trafficking victims and how to report it when we see something. We have phenomenal resources from The Salvation Army, the Blue Campaign within the Department of Homeland Security, our local law enforcement, and our community groups like the Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. Education is critical in combating a crime like this, and our awareness could save a life.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and January 11th is recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. These national proclamations highlight the need to raise our awareness and increase our efforts in addressing the inhumane crime of human trafficking. Let us seize these opportunities by stepping up in our communities, becoming more aware and more involved. By addressing this issue together, we can put an end to trafficking here at home and around the world.