Yvette Young, a support specialist at Peace Corner Youth Center, said if she had taken the human trafficking training recently held at the center a few years earlier, she may have been able to help students she served.
“Had I had this about six years earlier, it could have been total different outcomes,” Young said, referring to a group of students he believes may have been involved in a human or sex trafficking operation.
But, she said, “we can’t worry about yesterday, we can just become more empowered so we can create a safer tomorrow.”
The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, in partnership with the Peace Corner Youth Center, 5022 W. Madison St., held a training session on identifying and responding to human trafficking in Austin earlier this week.
Young said she learned a lot and is grateful to have more tools to help keep young people safe.
The task force is a joint project of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Salvation Army STOP-IT Program; it is also partly funded by the federal government. The task force includes subcommittees dedicated to training, victim services, labor trafficking and the LGBTQ community.
Young said she believes youth in Austin, and other communities, too, are particularly at risk.
“The students are really at a vulnerable age, an impressionable age, and they could get caught up in it very easily,” she said.
The United States is considered a major destination for human trafficking, according to information published by a the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Dr. Charles Hounmenou, an assistant professor at UIC, said a majority of human trafficking victims are from the U.S.
Many people think human trafficking is an international problem and that victims come from outside the U.S., but that’s simply not true, Hounmenou said.
He said education is critical but identifying victims is not easy.
“When you see a victim, you can’t always recognize [them],” Hounmenou said. “Victims do not recognize themselves as victims. They tell lies because they have been prepared . . . not to tell the truth.”
Human trafficking research needs to involve victims and children, but that is not currently possible, he said. But not allowing children to be part of research, among other issues, makes research difficult, and often inaccurate.
“They suffer in silence . . . It’s good to go directly to the victims and hear their stories,” Hounmenou said.
Earlier this month, ABC 7 reported that a man and his twin sons were in federal court on charges involving trafficking minors in Chicago, the fifth-largest center of trafficking in the U.S, according to the Chicago Tribune.
To report an incidence of human trafficking – which can include domestic servitude, sex trafficking, recruitment of child soldiers, forced prostitution or other forced labor – contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.