ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Advocates in Rockford are trying to raise awareness of an issue that impacts almost every community in America, but is rarely talked about: the victims of sexual exploitation.
According to the City of Rockford, more than 40% of violent crime is attributed to domestic violence, but advocates say violence caused by the sex trade is also impacting the community.
According to the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention, in 2016, Illinois ranked 8th in the United States for reported human trafficking cases, with Rockford ranking 2nd in the state, behind Chicago.
“We want to talk about what human trafficking is and what it’s not,” said Jennifer Cacciapaglia, executive director.
“So often, we think it’s someone being taken or kidnapped someplace,” she said.
Cacciapaglia, a founder of the Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, says people are often coerced into labor or prostitution.
“It’s very important for us, as a community, to recognize what human trafficking is, so we can respond to it and spot it, quickly,” she said, adding that sex workers are often coerced into the lifestyle.
“The reality is, the vast majority of survivors in our community, if not all of them, are really groomed through the process of relationship-building. It would take several weeks and months-long process to build a relationship with someone,” she said, speaking of the relationship between a sex worker and the person who recruits them.
She added that Rockford offers help for sex workers trying to escape their plight.
“We know, anecdotally, that we see survivors expressing trafficking situations regularly, in the Family Peace Center. Right now, we have…36 clients who present as human trafficking survivors,” she said.
“I think it’s fair to say, as we continue to build the process to identify and investigate and respond to this crime we are going to continue to see more survivors come forth,” she continued.
Caccipaglia says it would take a concerted effort from the entire community to combat the root causes of prostitution, and she’s optimistic it can be done.
“The good news is this community has the resources. This community can end this period. It’s going to take a community outcry, and it’s going to take shifts in priorities, but we can do it,” she said.