PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A human trafficking conference hosted by the Center for Prevention of Abuse is shedding light on the hundreds of victims trafficked through Illinois last year.
Light 2021 is a two-day event filled with panels about best practices, preventative efforts, and strategies to combat human trafficking in your own backyard.
Illinois ranked #9 with 267 cases of human trafficking in 2020, according to CFPA. More than 100 of them came to CFPA for services and 88% were from central Illinois.
“Healthy relationships were not my strong point. Everything I had learned about relationships was transactional,” said keynote speaker Cyntoia Brown-Long, reflecting on her experiences that led to being trafficked as a 13-year-old runaway.
“If I had to pinpoint when things took a turn for the worst in my life, it was definitely the day that I ran away,” she said. “The three years that followed that decision were hands down the most traumatic, chaotic and reckless times of my life.”
At age 16, she was sentenced to life in prison for killing a client. Her case drew national attention in 2017, and ultimately led to a clemency from then-Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. She served 15 years in prison.
Now a free woman, Brown is using her voice to share warnings about human trafficking. She said as a teenage runaway, she learned how to sell her body from women on the street.
“These women wouldn’t fit the traditional definitions of traffickers. They were simply showing me the world as they saw it. The world and relationships as they had come to understand,” Brown said. “I had never heard of how girls could be groomed for trafficking by the people they considered their peers, their friends. The grooming doesn’t always start with the trafficker.”
During a panel on labor trafficking in healthcare, Christian Arizmendi, assistant attorney general at the Illinois Attorney General Workplace Right Bureau, said unlicensed care facilities and unlicensed employment agencies often go undetected and make it easy to exploit workers.
“When they are operating below the radar it is extremely difficult to detect them… with my office, unless somebody calls us and alerts us to the issue there’s really no way for us to know what’s going on or that this business is operating,” he said.
Day two of the conference picks up Thursday. Panels include family-controlled trafficking, the impact of trafficking on people with disabilities, and effective outreach to people at risk of being trafficked.