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Educators meet to learn warning signs of sex trafficking and domestic abuse in students

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Human trafficking and domestic violence are huge issues across the Stateline, especially in Rockford, where the city ranks 2nd in Illinois for human trafficking, according to the Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 193 human trafficking cases in Illinois in 2007.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, providing, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act,” and defines severe forms of sex trafficking  as a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. 

Schools can play a key factor in keeping kids safe.

With the 2018-19 school year fast approaching, nearly 200 area educators, including teachers, administrators, and support staff, packed Heartland Community Church with the goal of learning appropriate strategies for spotting and reducing the signs of domestic abuse and sex trafficking.

“We’ve had people say, ‘Well, that just doesn’t happen in our schools,’ and we know it does. We have to help identify the issue before we can help solve the problem,” Judge Rosemary Collins said at the forum.

Studies indicate that these crimes impact more than just the victims – there’s a ripple effect:

“If you grow up in a household where there’s domestic violence occurring, it becomes a ‘normalized’ behavior for you,” said Mayor Tom McNamara. “You are more likely to be involved in domestic violence, either as a victim or a perpetrator.”

Educators spend a great deal of time with students, which is why school officials are considered the first responders in preventing these crimes.

“They know when a child is so tired that they can’t pay attention,” Judge Collins said. “What they may not know is the reason that child is so tired is because the police were called to the house in the middle of the night.”

In many cases, school personnel properly identify signs of abuse but simply don’t know what resources are available for them to report it.

“We want to make sure we get the tools in their hands so that they can make effective decisions that are not harmful to them or the student, and that, in fact, helps the students in whatever situation they may be in,” said Jennifer Cacciapaglia, the manager of the Mayor’s office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention.

Sixteen school districts attended Tuesday summit, along with seventeen different agencies.

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