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updated: 5/11/2013 11:13 PM

Suburbs aren't immune from human trafficking, experts say

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For six years, the young woman worked faithfully as a nanny for a well-off Elgin couple who took away her identification and passport after luring her to the United States with promises too good to be true.

Unpaid and isolated, she never thought of leaving or telling authorities for fear of deportation or retaliation.

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"Many people don't believe this happens nearby," attorney Kim Spagui said in telling of the nanny's experiences at a human trafficking forum held at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin Saturday.

But "it's a suburban issue," she noted. "An issue here in town ... in Kane, Lake, McHenry, DuPage counties ... we're seeing it everywhere."

That story and others drew a crowd of more than 100 to the Attorneys Targeting Labor and Sex Trafficking event. ATLAST is an offshoot of the Elgin-based Administer Justice organization, which offers free legal aid to low-income clients.

The Chicago metropolitan area is fourth out of the top 20 human trafficking jurisdictions listed by the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 60 percent of human trafficking victims are U.S. citizens, ATLAST officials said.

Elgin police noticed growth in the number of residences being used as brothels in 2010 and 2011, Detective Sgt. Jim Lullo said.

Frequently, the women were "moved around to different locations in the Fox Valley from Elgin to Aurora to Little Village (in Chicago) to Waukegan," Lullo said. "Some were as young as 15 to 16."

While some victims are physically prevented from escaping, traffickers also use psychological manipulation.

There's a significant fear component, and it's deepened for those who are in the country illegally, said Sarah Flagel, a legal specialist at World Relief DuPage/Aurora.

A number of recent trafficking cases have made headlines in the suburbs.

• Two Chicago men were charged with trafficking and promoting prostitution involving a 23-year-old downstate woman following a police stop in Mundelein April 3.

• A Loves Park man was charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor and human trafficking Jan. 2 after Arlington Heights police found him with a 16-year-old girl at a motel.

• A Glenview man who ran a massage parlor in Mount Prospect was sentenced to life in prison in November 2012 after convictions for sex trafficking and forced labor. His victims included women from the Ukraine and Belarus.

Referring to the recent case of the three Cleveland women kidnapped and kept in captivity 10 years, panelists urged the public to inform authorities if they see anything suspicious.

"Please bother us, please call us," Lullo said. "You need to call us so we can go out and take a look at things."

Along with local authorities, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888 can provide information on how to get help.

Sponsors for Saturday's forum also included the Elgin Police Department and Willow Creek Community Church.

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