Sex slavery rampant in the suburbs, experts say
Congressman Randy Hultgren, experts address sex slavery at forum in Geneva
The slaves of America's past, the kind recorded in history books, worked in shipyards, plantation fields and the homes of wealthy white men. The slaves of America's present work in massage parlors, nail salons and spas, all businesses that can serve as legitimate fronts for illegal sex trade.
Chicago FBI agents and representatives of organizations that try to assist the victims delivered a chilling message Thursday night that sex slavery is rampant in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. About 25,000 women and underage girls are trafficked in, around and through local neighborhoods each year, the experts said.
The dark statistics came to light during a community forum in Geneva hosted by Congressman Randy Hultgren. He is a member of the Congressional Human Trafficking Task Force and introduced a resolution earlier this year to urge nations to recognize the link between prostitution and human trafficking.
"If we can save one life, one person, from this horrible tragedy, it's worth it," Hultgren told an audience of about 30 people. "It's a local problem. It's happening right here. The people responsible for these crimes are the pimps and johns and those making money from the slaves."
Those pimps make an average of $67,000 per year, per slave, according to Alison Bell, the Aurora representative on the Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force. And with nearly 30 million people forced into slavery worldwide, it is a $9.5 billion business. That profit margin falls behind only drugs and weapons trade on the black market.
Bell urged local residents to be vigilant and report any suspicions of sex slavery to the National Human Trafficking hotline at (888) 373-7888. She said massage businesses are a booming outlet for sex slavery in the suburbs now. If a business looks suspicious, or uses oddly alluring ads for its services, there is no harm in asking authorities to take a closer look. Bell said she's reported several businesses herself.
"More than once, people say to me, 'Are you sure 100 percent?'" Bell said. "I use this analogy. If you think you see a drug deal in process, you don't walk over and say, 'Excuse me, gentlemen, can you tell me a little about those goods you're trading?' What we need are people who are looking at middle school bus stops, at the nail technicians and the massage parlors. Look for clues, signs of abuse, evidence that someone isn't able to leave."
Nancy Allen, from the Human Trafficking Freedom Coalition of Northern Illinois, also urged residents to pressure their local governments to pass legislation that cracks down businesses hosting sex slaves. She pointed to model legislation recently approved by the McHenry County Board as an example. The ordinance requires fingerprinting and background checks for owners and employees of adult establishments as well as placement of human trafficking hotline numbers.