ROCKFORD - Human trafficking is a major issue across the nation.
Rockford is on the frontline. One organization ranked it in the second worst in the state, which is why more resources are being dedicated to spreading awareness and educating the population.
"Its become more and more important and a higher priority to enforce," said Rockford Police Chief Dan O'Shea about human trafficking.
He formed part of a panel of experts at a forum to identify and combat it.
"Trafficking is very prevalent," said O'Shea. "There's continuous traffic... in towns and cities that have hotels and internet."
Recent raids in cities across the Midwest have turned up human traffickers and dozens of victims.
O'Shea saying that Rockford's proximity to other major cities and easy accessibility to interstate highways make for easier access.
He says they're taking it very seriously, even changing the ways they patrol to be able to help more victims.
"Instead of prosecuting them, we're taking them and we're trying to get them to social welfare agencies and trying to get them off of the addiction from usually substance abuse, or trying to break them away from the person who's a controlling person who's trying to own them and control them," said O'Shea.
"It's modern day slavery," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). "Rockford... is number two in the state and Illinois is number eight in the country. The number one thing we can do to put an end to this is or put a dent in it is to make people aware of its existence and to recognize it."
Kinzinger says it's important to keep an eye out for potential victims.
Some markers could be someone with unexplained bruises, is in a controlling relationship, or keeps unusual hours.
He says we need remember that these people are victims.
"It's the users of these services, and it's the pimps that do this that are the real evil people in this," said Kinzinger. "And recognizing when that exists, and alerting the right people is the first step to making an impact."
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