Monday, November 19, 2012

Who is a Victim of Human Trafficking in Chicago?

In 2003, a New York Times identified Chicago as a national hub for human trafficking. Chicago’s airports, including one of the world’s largest airports, the O’Hare International Airport, and the major crossings of large interstates make entry for traffickers and victims much more accessible. These victims are then dispersed from this major Midwest location to neighboring states, cities, and towns. Not to mention that with the percentage of foreign-born individuals at 21.1%, trafficking victims could look like any number of immigrants in the city. However, it’s important to note that trafficking victims can be both non-U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens. In addition, Chicago as a vibrant tourist attraction keeps demand high as people travel in and out of the city.

Here are some more facts and statistics that call for the urgent need to address human trafficking in Chicago:

  • In the state of Illinois, most of the Latin American and Asian trafficked victims are found in the Chicagoland area.
  • Chicago hosts an abundance of large scale events that attract traffickers to bring victims to cater to event attendees.
  • 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are trafficked each year in Chicago. One third of them get involved in trafficking by the age of 15 and 62% by the age of 18.
  • In Cook County (in which Chicago belongs), massage parlors and strip clubs front sex trafficking businesses.
  • The labor trafficking takes advantage of the large immigrant population in Chicago. This includes forced begging and soliciting, domestic servitude, and forced labor in restaurants.
  • Between December 2007 and June 2009, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 257 calls from Illinois, which ranks fifth on highest number of calls after Texas, California, New York, and Florida.

Illinois currently has legislation in place that that aims to protect and not criminalize human trafficking victims. The Trafficking of Persons and Involuntary Servitude Act of Illinois went into effect in 2006, proclaiming it an offense for trafficking persons for forced servitude including minors, increasing access to health and social services for victims, and imposing severe penalties for traffickers. During the same year, the Illinois Predator Accountability Act was enacted to allow sex trafficked victims to sue their abusers and anyone who profited from their activities. Furthermore In 2010, the Illinois Safe Children Act was signed into law, thus being one of the first states to implement comprehensive legislation that trafficked children under 18 will be protected from criminal prosecution.

This article describes the criminalization of prostitution in Chicago that relegates sex workers to felony status. Even when they want to exit the sex industry, they are hard pressed to find legitimate employers who will hire ex-felons. If they are denied a self-supporting job and public services, they often return to sex work as their only immediate source of income and survival. While I interned as a case worker last year for a social service agency, I saw numerous ex-felons come through our job readiness training program. Although we could refer them to several appropriate employers, the job options were extremely limited. Sex workers should be given more opportunities for self-advancement, including education, supportive services, social services, and broader job options. There is no use in labeling an individual as a felon and then expect them to contribute to the job economy if they cannot access formal employment opportunities.

In 2011, the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act was signed into law, enabling sex trafficking victims who were convicted as prostitutes to clear their criminal records of forced commercial sex acts. Children and many non-consenting adults who are forced to perform commercial sex acts are not actually engaging in prostitution; instead, they are falling victim to abusive individuals who exploit their age, lack of options, and social isolation for profit. They need protection and the right to resources and provision of necessities like clothing, food, transportation, and counseling that will help them to rebuild their lives. Despite these legislative victories, victims still need specialized services to help them get back on their feet. Trafficked victims did not choose to be slaves. Often those in the sex industry have been coerced into the life and do not need their dignity stripped further by being labeled as criminals.


October 2012 Community Forum Outcome Document

AATOP Community Forum Outcome Document
October 24, 2012

The Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP), a program launched by the International Organization of Adolescents (IOFA) held its first community forum on October 24, 2012 at the Hull House Museum. This forum was the first meeting to connect organizations from the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community of Chicago that have interest and expertise in the issue of human trafficking. Over forty attendees ranging from college students to professionals in the fields of advocacy, health, legal, education, and social services came together to hear about AATOP and contribute to the discussion about outreach to victims of human trafficking in underserved API communities.

IOFA provided a general introduction to the initiative, explained the scope of human trafficking in the United States and Chicagoland area and provided guidance on how to identify trafficking victims. Shelby French (IOFA Executive Director) and Sehla Ashai (IOFA Anti-Trafficking Program Specialist) segued into a description of AATOP’s goals and target activities. Esther Liew (IOFA AATOP Program Development Intern) presented research from IOFA that demonstrated little evidence that API trafficking victims are being identified or provided support by a sample of API-serving organizations in Chicago. Using this as a launching point, Shelby invited the attending organizations and individuals to partner in AATOP efforts at various levels of participation. Both IOFA and participating organizations will bring together expertise from different fields with the goal of effectively reaching API trafficking victims and agencies that serve this demographic.

We proceeded to a discussion session that addressed these questions:

  • Do you believe that human trafficking is a critical issue facing API communities?
  • Do you think human trafficking is being addressed adequately in API communities?
  • What are the challenges to building public awareness and concern about human trafficking?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • Which API communities are at greatest risk?
  • Who needs to be involved to ensure success and sustainability of AATOP efforts?
  • What are the specific challenges and opportunities in relation to outreach into this particular community?
  • What are some culturally appropriate models or methods of outreach to victims of similar crimes?

The discussion explored attendees’ understanding of the challenges to serving trafficked victims and generated suggestions of how they themselves can contribute to AATOP efforts.

Feedback points included:

Human trafficking is a critical issue facing API communities
  • Psychological coercion of human trafficking can be damaging.
  • Service providers in attendance have spoken and worked with trafficked individuals but have not realized it.
  • Trafficking is a big problem in the Vietnamese community. The Vietnamese American Community of Illinois has received calls eliciting support for trafficked victims. It has also conducted anti-trafficking programs for the Vietnamese community.

Fear of removing self from trafficked situation
  • Some victims come to the U.S. not knowing anybody.
  •  They get minimal provisions in the trafficked situation, but if they leave, they are stepping out into the unknown where there may receive no protection at all. It is scary to be in a trafficked situation, but scarier not to know what is out there, so not many trafficked individuals leave.
  • A shelter living situation is not incentive enough for victims to leave.

Building a connection between organizations that potentially serve API trafficking victims
  • If staff do not know how to identify a trafficking situation, they will not know what to do when confronted with it.
  • Benefit of having a coordinated network: direct service providers builds relationships with victims and with other collaborating organizations. Victims will choose service providers that they trust to advocate for them. They will be less fearful of presenting their trafficking situations to a police or lawyer if they have a professional who supports them.
  • Organizations serving trafficking victims should know how to connect and coordinate with organizations in victims’ home countries in case repatriation is necessary.

Labor trafficking
·         The difference between trafficking and labor exploitation is blurry. What constitutes as exploitation in one culture is not the same in another; what is “normal” in one culture is not in another.
  • Some people do not understand the difference between labor exploitation and trafficking, so we need to be clear when explaining the distinction between the two.
  • Outreach work into labor violations and employment issues face resistance because victims and social service organizations do not want to go against businesses. Victims may deny that there is a problem.
  • Some of the largest labor trafficking cases have involved Asian workers. Labor trafficking preys on the language gap of victims. There is success when workers are organized to advocate for recognition of labor trafficking. However, it is difficult to organize domestic workers because they are isolated from each other.
  • There is currently no law association with whistle blowing or “qui tam” (a writ whereby a private individual who assists in a prosecution is entitled to a percentage of the recovery of the penalty as a reward for exposing wrongdoings) to empower workers to advocate. There is little incentive for victims to challenge labor trafficking employers because of the burden of litigation and re-traumatization. Using litigation for outreach has not been successful, but has been successful when used for compensation.
  • If there is an affluent defendant, the case will go to trial because reputation is at stake.

AATOP’s priority
  • AATOP’s priorities are threefold: identify victims, gather services so they are accessible to victims, and train organizations. Victims face a dilemma if there is nowhere they can receive services. Connections are currently non-existent, so we must put a network together.

Recommendations for moving forward
  • Victims or people who have identified a human trafficking victim can call the 24/7 National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-3737-888) for assistance.
  • Members of the AATOP network can also call IOFA at 773-404-8831 if a victim is identified and wants to be connected with law enforcement and/or legal and social services in the area.
  • It will take awhile to get the API community used to the concept of trafficking outreach, so relationship-building with participating organizations and specific communities is very important.
  • Have conversations with the API community to familiarize them with human trafficking.
  • Organize community leaders to provide a safe space for victims to meet and talk
  • Survivor participation: we want to hear from survivors, ask them questions, and receive direct feedback to inform our programs.
  • For those working with older refugee/non-US citizen girls under pressure to get jobs/are working, have conversations with them about work: work hours, language barriers, fear of being fired, what has raised questions for you, etc.
  • AATOP is in the process of translating trafficking outreach tools into culturally appropriate terms so agencies can use them.
  • AATOP can use resources from Look Beneath the Surface, a culturally appropriate trafficking campaign.
  • Divide up by target ethnic communities and by expertise to contribute to AATOP efforts: legal, social service, capacity building, etc. For example, the Chicago Bar Association can help with the legislative portion.
  • Strength in numbers:  the more organizations we get to come on board, the more the issue will be moved to the forefront.
  • Positive peer pressure: launching point for a shift in thinking and beliefs of other organizations.
  • Train law enforcement to identify API trafficking.
  • College students can be advocates on campus with their student organizations.

Next steps for AATOP
  • Send out a survey inquiring the interest and participation level of potential member organizations
  • Maintain open communication with member organizations through the AATOP blog, listserv, and quarterly newsletters
  • Compile a list of member organizations
  • Have phone calls or meet with member organizations to check in on AATOP progress on their part, then provide help where necessary
  • Recruit for the AATOP steering committee
  • Recruit more AATOP member organizations by reaching out to more API-serving organizations in Chicago and inviting them to participate in AATOP
  • Recruit non-organizationally affiliated community members to be supporters of AATOP
  • Hold ethnic-specific meetings with community members and interested organizations
  • Awareness building and public education
  • Victim outreach
  • Training and capacity building of existing organizations and resources
  • Ongoing technical assistance to organizations
  • Enhance legal and social services for victims
  • Establish and coordinate cultural competent referral networks
  • Research and evaluation of target activities