Human trafficking seminar focuses on identifying and fighting an often hidden crime
PRINCETON — Human trafficking is a crime that is often hidden just beneath the surface, and it can be found in any community, large or small.
Hosted by Freedom House, a center for the prevention of abuse, a seminar recently presented by Sara Dillefeld taught representatives from Illinois Valley law enforcement, education, social services, medical professionals and other advocates and concerned community members about the growing threat of human trafficking.
Dillefeld is the director of Human Trafficking Services at the Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria.
“When we created this department, we didn’t know what we were getting into, and we’ve realized there’s a real need for this,” Dillefeld said.
“Trafficking is often a hidden crime that’s just under the surface of our communities, and at some point, you have or will experience a connection to trafficking, whether it’s through your food, clothes, products, services or the people you come into contact with,” she said.
As an example of how prevalent human trafficking is, Dillefeld said there are hundreds of women and children being sold online within a 100-mile range. Trafficking can take many forms, but generally falls into labor or sex trafficking.
Labor trafficking includes domestic work; agricultural work; traveling sales crews; restaurants and food services; and construction.
Sex trafficking includes illicit massage businesses, hotel/motel-based sex work; residence-based commercial sex; online advertisements; escort services; and street-based prostitution.
“Runaways are in particular danger, and children are often approached by traffickers within the first 48 hours. And there’s no such thing as a child prostitute, just a child victim,” Dillefeld said.
She added that agriculture is the second most popular venue for labor exploitation, and many immigrants arriving in the country hoping for a better life and an ability to help their families back home are easily exploited.
“This is an under-reported and under-identified problem. According to the United States State Department, there are 20,000 victims being brought into the U.S. each year,” Dillefeld said.
Victims arrive legally, then traffickers seize their victims’ passports and other papers. They’re also paid less than promised, physically and verbally threatened, placed into debt bondage, coerced, beaten, isolated, forced to work exhausting hours, and forced to live in substandard conditions.
“Trafficking is a $150 billion industry. It’s the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, and it pays big money to traffic people. Human bodies sell, and the demand is there. Until we take care of the supply and demand problem, it will continue to be out there,” Dillefeld said.
After attendees learned the different aspects of trafficking, Dillefeld discussed how to recognize trafficking; the creation of new laws to protect victims; and how to approach victims with a focus on their needs.
Dillefeld said victims have been subjected to severe trauma and stressed the importance of helping to assure them there’s assistance available.
“It’s a difficult crime to investigate, so it’s helpful to have a victim who’s willing to help. The number one priority is ensuring their physical and emotional safety and building trust. Victims can suffer from PTSD, self-harm and substance abuse. You have to build a rapport with them and ease their anxiety about law enforcement,” she said.
While many trafficking crimes involve immigrants, it’s also found among hometown residents.
“You can be born in your community, grow up and live there and still be trafficked; it happens every day. I’ve seen residential brothels in our communities,” Dillefeld said.
She also used the upcoming Super Bowl as an example of how prevalent sex trafficking is in this country. She said communities hosting the championship game have had to develop law enforcement strategies to fight the traffickers who bring thousands of women into their cities so they can be sold for sex.
Dillefeld reported there were 720 trafficking cases reported in Illinois in 2016 with 1,802 potential people trafficked. The majority of victims were female and a roughly a third were minors.
This modern-day slavery can be found in a wide variety of business environments including agriculture, factory work, meat-packing, salons, strip clubs, restaurants, construction, domestic services, elderly care, the internet, massage parlors, motels/hotels, truck stops and more.
“Traffickers often break several laws during their victim’s exploitation including assault, battery, kidnapping, murder, false imprisonment, sexual assault, prostitution, pandering and many more,” Dillefeld said.
She said victims may need help with housing, food, health concerns, language interpretation, legal services and financial assistance.
She then discussed several new tools law enforcement can use to fight trafficking and encouraged a cooperation with all service providers to help prosecute these criminals and remove their threat from communities while also ensuring the safety of their victims.
For more information, call the Center for Prevention of Abuse at 309-691-0551 or visit its website at www.centerforpreventionofabuse.org. Dillefeld can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.