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Human trafficking a national problem

January 19, 2018 GMT

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, designed to draw awareness to our national problem with modern-day slavery.

The Global Slavery Index — a country-by-country survey of human trafficking performed by anti-slavery nonprofit the Walk Free Foundation — estimates there are 57,700 people living in slavery in the United States.

“It’s hard getting people to understand why victims don’t leave. People think, ‘they have a cellphone, they’re not chained to a bed, they can just leave,’” said Sheri Schweizer, training and anti-trafficking coordinator for the Kankakee County Center Against Sexual Assault and Iroquois Sexual Assault Services.

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“But the threats people use against their victims, the threat of violence to them or their family members. The threats they’ll never survive without them. The fear they instill in victims is unbelievable.”

Some things to know about human trafficking:

• Contrary to media depictions, there actually are two forms of trafficking: sex trafficking and the lesser-known labor trafficking. Child labor, forced labor and debt bondage can all be forms of labor trafficking, and victims might be paid low wages. Labor trafficking is often found in the service industry, including places such as restaurants and spas.

• Signs of human trafficking include: the victim is unpaid/underpaid or the victim’s wages go to a third party; the victim’s movements are restricted and he or she works odd hours; the victim doesn’t have access to his or her vital documents such as passports or birth certificates; the victim is in poor health/malnourished and appears anxious or fearful; the victim often changes residences and doesn’t leave the house without being accompanied by an “employer.”

• With two international airports, Chicago is considered a hub for human trafficking, particularly of vulnerable immigrants.

How you can help:

• KC-CASA and ISAS are holding several fundraisers this month. Fundraisers are being held Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Taco John’s in Bradley and Jan. 30 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Chipotle in Bourbonnais.

• Jan. 26, KC-CASA, Kankakee Community College and the 21st Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council are hosting a “Looking Beneath the Surface” Training for $15 at KCC. Aimed at community leaders, law enforcement, school employees and faith-based organizations, the daylong training conference includes presentations from leading experts in the field. For more information or to register, call 815-802-8207.

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• The entire month of January, KC-CASA and ISAS are collecting bras for Free The Girls, a nonprofit that supports sex trafficking survivors in developing countries. You can drop them off at the KC-CASA offices at 1440 W. Court St., Kankakee, and the ISAS offices at 1801 N. Illinois Route 1, Suite 3, Watseka.

• If you see something, say something. KC-CASA and ISAS have 24-hour help hotlines at 815-932-3322 and 815-432-0420. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has a hotline at 888-373-7888 or you can text “HELP” to 233733.

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