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COUNTY CONNECTIONS Human Trafficking – What You Should Know

Jan 08, 2021 11:31AM ● By Editor
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By Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen from Cook County Law Enforcement - January 8, 2021

Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world, including the United States. 

In the U.S., for example, the illegal drug profit is estimated at $426 - $652 billion annually, with human trafficking bringing in approximately $150 billion annually. This makes people trafficking the most lucrative trafficking crime after drugs, according to the latest statistics available from the International Labour Organization (ILO, 2014).

Every year, one to two million children, women and men become victims of human trafficking. Traffickers make anywhere between $4,000 and $50,000 per person trafficked, depending on the victim’s place of origin and destination. Unlike the distribution and sale of drugs, human trafficking “supplies” are not expended after a single use: traffickers utilize their “product” over and over, making trafficking very lucrative. Additionally, trafficking organizers use many forms of control, including coercion, drug addiction, mental and physical manipulation, and the promise of a romantic relationship or security, to lure and eventually enslave their victims. 

What to Watch For
Unfortunately, the signs of a trafficked victim are not glaring and may in some cases seem minimal unless you are looking for them. These signs can include:

  • Appearing malnourished or destitute, e.g., lacking personal possessions
  • Showing signs of physical or sexual abuse: bruises, cuts, black eyes, burn marks, etc.
  • Showing visible anxiety or fear including avoiding eye contact or social interaction
  • Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interactions
  • Lacking official identification documents
  • Working excessively long hours or living at place of employment
  • Checking into hotels/motels with older males, where an older companion seems to be in control of a younger person
  • Having tattoos or branding on the neck and/or lower back
  • Lingering at bus stops, hotel lobbies or other public places
  • Having untreated sexually transmitted diseases
  • Dressing inappropriately for the individual’s age or weather
  • Living under security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment, i.e., barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows, or controls that do not allow people to go into public alone or speak for themselves

Of course, many of these signs are exhibited by our population each day in some form and can be typical of a routine life. However, when you begin to put some of them together in a specific situation, they may point to someone in need of help. 

A Safe Harbor for Victims

In 2011, the state of Minnesota passed safe Harbor legislation, which began looking at those who were involuntarily caught up in the trafficking business as something other than criminals. This law created a paradigm shift whereby youth victims of human trafficking were no longer treated as suspects and/or criminals. Trafficking victims are now treated with dignity and respect and are directed to supportive services, shelter and housing that meet their needs and recognize their right to make their own choices.

Historically, it was widely known by law enforcement that victims cooperated very little even when detained due to the dependence which was ingrained into them by their handlers. By enacting Safe Harbor legislation and shifting the focus to victim rather than suspect, there has been an increased number of cases brought to prosecution due to the willingness of victims to speak out. 

Who Is at Risk and Local Initiatives

Anyone can be a trafficking victim. It is easy for adolescents and teens to become vulnerable to traffickers, especially if there is a lack of support around them. Studies have shown that runaways have been “recruited” in as little as 48 hours and that average entry age for prostitution is between 12 and 14. Also, while not reported as much, males are just as much at risk as females.  

Cook County is not immune to human trafficking. With high tourist activity, numerous remote areas, and proximity to an international border and tribal communities, this is a concern and something we must all be vigilant against. 

The Grand Portage community funds a full-time deputy position through our office. The deputy who is charged with this patrol area is a dedicated member of the TRUST task force. TRUST, or Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking, is a collaboration initiated by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa due to the complexity and clandestine nature of these crimes. It comprises several law enforcement agencies, including tribal police departments, and seeks to: 

  • Increase the number of sex trafficking cases identified and investigated
  • Assist victim/survivors of sex trafficking in accessing resources for their recovery 
  • Identify individuals at risk of being trafficked and initiate interventions
  • Offer cross-jurisdictional training on sex trafficking in urban, rural and tribal settings
  • Increase cultural competency and create go-to contacts for outreach
  • Increase offender accountability
  • Develop a communication system among tribal communities and neighboring communities.

If You See Something That Doesn’t Seem Right, Report It

If you witness any signs of an individual being trafficked and your intuition tells you something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to report it. Call the Sheriff’s Office, either at 911 or the dispatch non-emergency number at 218-387-3030. Your instincts and awareness could very well save a life.

Thank you for helping keep our community safe. 

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.