National Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Human Trafficking in Lake County, Illinois: Demographics and Statistics


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. 


Human Trafficking – Lake County Resources


Human Trafficking is not a new phenomenon, but caring about it is. Human Trafficking has been happening forever, but only in the year 2000 was it recognized as a crime by the US Government & the United Nations. You have the ability to make an impact on human trafficking in Lake County. 

Awareness is key in identifying signs within our community and reporting information to local law enforcement. Here are some indicators which suggest a person may be a victim of human trafficking:

  • Person is under the age of 18 and is involved in the sex industry.
  • Person has visible signs of abuse including unexplained bruises, black eyes, cuts or marks.
  • Person exhibits behaviors of fear, anxiety, depression or paranoia.
  • Person expresses interest in, or is in a relationship with significantly older adults.
  • Person has a tattoo or brand and is reluctant to explain it.
  • Person has untreated illnesses or infections, particularly sexually transmitted infections.
  • Person is not in control of own money or identification.
  • Person displays secrecy of whereabouts after having been open about activities in the past.
  • Person keeps unusual hours.
  • Person wears new clothes, gets hair/nails done, possesses new material goods with no financial means to obtain these independently.
  • Not speaking on own behalf
  • Evidence of inability to move or leave job or take time off
  • Unpaid for work or compensated very little
  • Lives with co-workers and employer no privacy
  • Works off the books in a low-paying job

This list is not exhaustive. One of these indicators on its own may not mean someone is trafficked, but a combination of indicators may amount to a situation of human trafficking. If you think you know or have met a victim of human trafficking in the Chicago area, call your local police department, the Salvation Army’s STOP-IT program hotline at 877.606.3158, or the national hotline from Polaris Project at (888) 373-7888

To take an active approach in ending trafficking consider participating in training to recognize and respond appropriately to trafficking. Operation Underground Railroad offers free training  to help you identify the signs of trafficking.  Identifying victims is only one step in solving the issue. Resources need to be available to assist victims to transition to safe living situations.

Trauma-informed spaces and organization are made available to help create pathways for victims to exit their exploitative situation. Each of us needs to educate ourselves and raise awareness in our social circles.  In Lake County, education and support services are provided by Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, Stepping Stones, and a Safe Place


Further information, resources, and hotlines:

The Polaris Project

Stop It, The Salvation Army

Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center

A Safe Place for Help

Stepping Stones Network

Lake County Coalition Against Human Trafficking



Written by ZCenter Staff, reposted from January 2021. 

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email

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