In early 2020 the Lake County Sheriff’s Office announced fourteen arrests as the result of a multi-day human trafficking crackdown in suburban Gurnee. According to a news release, the Lake County Sheriff’s Special Investigations Group used classified advertising websites to lure customers to a Gurnee hotel before making arrests. This news came as a shock to many who believe that something as horrific as human trafficking would never occur in their safe, quiet neighborhood. Little do they know Lake County has some of the highest rates of human trafficking in Illinois.
According to Polaris Project, in 2019 there were 434 human trafficking victims identified in the state of Illinois. Additionally there were 115 traffickers identified and 53 trafficking businesses.
Due to the high rate of underreporting, we do not have precise statistics for the number of trafficking victims in Lake County. However, according to the Center for Impact Research in Metropolitan Chicago, 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are involved in prostitution in Chicagoland annually, with one third getting involved in prostitution by the age of 15 and 62 percent by the age of 18. Data on contacts to trafficking hotlines shows how few of the estimated tens of thousands of victims reach out for help. Numbers from Polaris Project show that in 2019 there were only 648 calls to their national hotline from people living in Illinois. Additionally, 73 webform contacts, 27 emails, 74 texts and 22 webchats.
In a three-month period during a 2013 study of online solicitation, there were over 50 postings by men residing in Waukegan and Gurnee; and almost 100 postings by men living in suburbs surrounding Lake County. The study showed us that sex trafficking is pervasive throughout Lake and Northern Cook counties in Illinois, including men buying sex in a variety of venues and women experiencing various forms of violenceand profiding sex against their will (Call to Action to End Violence in Lake County, July 2017).
Data shows that most cases of trafficking in Lake County are most heavily concentrated in and around the cities of North Chicago, Waukegan, and Gurnee, which also have the highest rates of gang activity. Some research indicates that as many as half of the gangs in the Chicago area are involved in sex trafficking.
The Chief of Police of North Chicago states that trafficking of minors through gangs is a major issue in that community. Wealthier communities of Lake County like Deerfield, Highland Park and Lake Forest are also facing the presence of human trafficking through erotic massage parlors and other sexually related services. According to State Representative Barbara Wheeler, human trafficking is a lucrative business in northern Illinois and traffickers will use massage parlors as a cover and method for connecting sex trade customers. It is estimated that 50 percent of those who are trafficked are also engaged in the legal commercial sex industry. Data shows that sex trafficking flourishes most in places where legal sex-oriented businesses such as strip clubs, adult stores, escort services, and erotic massage parlors are prevalent.
Human trafficking is an ongoing crime within our community. As we continue to raise awareness and encourage victims to seek help, we are sure more data will be brought to light. At ZCenter, we are committed to fighting for those affected by sexual violence and we know that the more people we reach means more will come forward.
- THE PARTNERSHIP FOR A SAFER LAKE COUNTY – Call to Action to End Violence in Lake County (2017)
Written by Brigit Dunne, Grant Manager
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