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Gearing up.

State officials prepare for a fight against trafficking By Angelica Herrera

In June 2005, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation that made human trafficking a prosecutable offense at the state level. The Trafficking of Persons and Involuntary Servitude Act made the offenses of involuntary servitude, sexual servitude of a minor, and human trafficking for forced labor and services punishable by up to 30 years in prison. "Here in Illinois, we are taking a serious and aggressive approach to ending human trafficking and forced labor," Blagojevich declared then.

But some officials say it could take years before they'll be fully equipped to tackle the issue. A successful prosecution must start from the ground up: training law enforcement agents on how to handle trafficking cases, compiling data that capture the scope of the problem, raising the public's awareness about the issue and establishing better coordination among various agencies. "Each of those is uniformly intertwined," said Greg Diephouse, senior project manager at the Illinois Department of Human Services. "You can't prosecute a human trafficking case without having the outreach, education, data collection and service coordination."

Officials say they are steadily working to meet their goal.

In October, Larry Sachs, research specialist at the Chicago Police Department, helped establish the Chicago Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, which promotes better coordination among several law enforcement agencies and service providers in the Chicago area to combat human trafficking.

Sachs said one of the group's goals is to train police officers statewide to better identify traffickers and their victims. The task force received a $450,000 grant last year from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Affairs to cover the cost of training and develop instruction materials.

Sachs envisions that some officers will eventually specialized in dealing with trafficking cases. "We recognize that we need to improve [the officers'] ability to conduct investigations and interviews," he said.

Elissa Steglich, managing attorney for the Midwest Immigrant and Human Rights Center, which provides legal assistance to immigrants, said it is equally critical to gather reliable statistics. "It is important to gather data so that we can have more effective policy developed," she said. "This is an underground phenomenon that's largely hidden, and ... there's an underreporting to law enforcement in terms of trafficking activity that occurs."

Sachs added that having reliable data makes a compelling argument for more resources. "It's very hard to argue for more resources if you just say, 'I think we have a problem; I think there are a lot of victims here,'" he said, "but who's going to give the money?"

Since the summer, the Department of Human Services has been heading the Illinois Rescue and Restore Campaign, a year-long initiative to raise the profile of human trafficking among the public. Thomas Green, department spokesman, said several state departments are also training "first responders," including child welfare investigators and service providers for domestic violence victims, the homeless, immigrants and refugees.

Diephouse said the campaign has helped raise public awareness. "Last June, when we launched the initiative, nobody had really heard of the problem or believed it existed domestically," he said. "But, through the media, government, state law and word of mouth, we've seen a lot of penetration of awareness on human trafficking."

Green concurred: "It's a problem that's no longer behind closed doors."

Sachs likens the challenge to the efforts to educate the public on domestic violence. It took decades for the public to fully come to terms with the concept of domestic violence, and he said it may take as long for human trafficking. "It's probably unrealistic that we're going to make a huge difference in the next couple of years," he said, "but I think we're establishing a base."
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Title Annotation:Chicago controls human trafficking
Author:Herrera, Angelica
Publication:The Chicago Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:May 1, 2006
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