Approximately 16,000 to 25,000 girls and women are currently being sex-trafficked in the Chicagoland region.
This is according to Restoration61 and Love Outreach Center, two anti-trafficking organizations that teamed up Saturday to lead a walk from Waverly Street to the Grundy County Court House in downtown Morris with a goal of raising $5,000.
This is the fourth year that LOC has held the walk. Although in previous years around 40 or 50 people have joined in, this year, the numbers were low. Only 10 were able to make it out. LOC President Donna Gabehart said she wished more people in the Morris area got involved with fighting human trafficking.
“It is frustrating,” Gabehart said, “People learn about human trafficking on TV and think it’s in some city far away. It’s not just there. It happens in Morris, Illinois.”
Once the group reached the court house they were listened to a presentation from Restoration61 co-founder Kara Doan followed by remarks from LOC founder Esther Holiday.
Doan and Restoration61 worked to provide housing and social services for 713 girls and women in the Chicagoland area in 2018. Doan said there are many misconceptions about human trafficking and sex trafficking in particular. For example, many people believe a large portion of trafficked persons are foreign-born. Only four of the 713 victims were born outside the United States.
According to Doan, victims of sex trafficking are not usually kidnapped. They are slowly integrated into a system of abusive relationships, vulnerability and isolation. These young women can come from any variety of background. Many come from middle or upper-class families. Some are trafficked every day by their abusers after school and then go home to their unsuspecting parents. Doan said all the girls have one thing in common: a desire to be loved and cherished.
“How many 14 to 15 year old girls want to be told that they’re loved, that they’re beautiful and special,” Doan said.
Doan shared the story of “S”, who was rescued from trafficking two weeks ago.
‘S’ is a teenaged girl from a small town along Interstate 80. After a falling-out with her parents she began to couch surf at several friends’ houses. Two months later she met a man who said she could stay with him. The man supplied her with marijuana and gifts and began to tell her how much he loved her. As ‘S’ became enamored with this man he told her that in order to afford having her stay with him, he needed her to sleep with a few men to make money. If she worked for him for a few months, he said he would make her rich and set her up with her own apartment. ‘S’ reluctantly agreed.
“What she did not know, what she could not see, is that she had just slipped into an unending cycle of emotional and physical abuse,” Doan said.
‘S’ and her abuser traveled up and down Interstate 80, stopping at almost every hotel and truck stop they came across. They stopped several times at locations in Grundy County. When the girl was finally rescued she had $40 in her pocket and a small suitcase of dirty clothes.
Holiday’s involvement in LOC is deeply personal. She was trafficked as a young woman by a man she thought she loved. Her story was remarkably similar to that of ‘S.’
“He asked if I loved him and I said ‘yes’ and he said ‘then you’ll do this for me,’” Holiday said, “God got me out and I’m a survivor, but the wounds are still there. There was a time that I hated all men. I didn’t trust them. I didn’t even trust my husband for years because it was too painful to trust a man. ...We need to help these girls and boys, because it can be boys too. They deserve to be free from this. We have to keep getting them out.”
Doan advises people to be aware of the signs of human trafficking: especially around hotels and truck stations:
• The possible victim appears to have unexplained bruises, cuts or other signs of physical abuse.
• A person who appears to be in a relationship with someone who is dominating.
• A person who is never alone and has someone speaking on their behalf.
• A person who is afraid of law-enforcement or receiving help.
“Bring awareness to your community. You can’t claim that you didn’t know any more,” Doan said.