Human Trafficking Awareness Month at the Legal Aid Society
During Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services staff – the Individual Rights & Social Justice Practice Group in particular, as it houses our Human Trafficking Initiative – shared their perspectives and key resources throughout the month on the multifaceted work LAS does to combat trafficking, what people should know about it, and how we can all work together to eradicate it.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Why It Matters
Key takeaways from Micaela Garrido, Outreach Coordinator:
- “Chicago and Illinois are front and center. Due to its large population and strategic geographic location, Chicago and Illinois are a hub of activity, including the transit through, or as an origin, or destination for human trafficking victims. National human trafficking hotline numbers consistently rank Illinois as one of the top 12 source of calls and identification of human trafficking survivors.”
- “Human trafficking is the exploitation of a person for the purpose of compelling their labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud and coercion.
Human trafficking survivors are usually exposed to multiple types of victimization, such as: assault, battery, abuse, domestic violence, wage theft, discrimination, fraud, deceit, rape, etc. Society can only be as strong as its individual members.
We want to ensure or work to strengthen our fellow residents for the sake of our city and state.“
- “Human trafficking is a hidden crime. This is where awareness comes in and plays a crucial role in the fight against trafficking: the reliance on community members to speak up if something seems wrong or amiss. Through force, fraud and coercion by an exploiter/trafficker, human trafficking victims rarely if ever seek help.
We need to help people know that there are remedies and there is a way out, and we need to create a more informed society that understands the dynamics of human trafficking and what we can do to stop it or fight it.“
Catherine Longkumer, Managing Attorney in the Individual Rights & Social Justice Practice Group, spoke with the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin about efforts across Illinois to combat human trafficking.
LB: What can people do to help eradicate this problem, beyond being educated and understanding the law?
Longkumer: One of the things we can do is to look at our behaviors as consumers. A lot of trafficking thrives because we as a society value cheap goods and services … We should care about the entire supply chain … We can’t ignore what is happening within that supply chain in the U.S. … We have these laws … that keep goods and services cheap but are inherently coercive toward workers.
If we are really serious about wanting to eradicate trafficking we have to have better enforcement of laws across the workplace and enforcing workers’ rights and worker protections.
Catherine Longkumer also spoke with the ABA (American Bar Association) Journal on creative remedies Illinois offers to support trafficking victims.
Illinois is another state that joined [Washington, D.C. and 40 other states] in January 2019, amending an earlier law to allow victims of human trafficking or involuntary servitude to bring actions against their traffickers. In another significant change, a survivor’s family or other advocates can also bring those claims on behalf of survivors if they are afraid or otherwise unable to come forward.
“In theory, the idea behind this provision is that it would allow some of the hardship that traditionally falls on victims in bringing forward the suit to be borne by an organization or government agency instead,” says Catherine Longkumer, a managing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago.
Longkumer—who has worked with trafficking survivors for most of her career and helped Illinois provide more protections for them in its law—adds that they can avoid being listed as a party in a lawsuit or in a public database if someone else sues a trafficker on their behalf.
Kimberly Fay, Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow, and Eligia Milan, Social Services Coordinator with the Individual Rights & Social Justice Practice Group, spoke on Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s “The Podvocate” podcast about the work LAS does in combating human trafficking, from community trainings to providing legal services and beyond.
“One of the misconceptions is, you can’t really tell who is being trafficked, or who the trafficker is, because there’s different vulnerabilities for being trafficked, and there’s different things that lend themselves to knowing that there’s something going wrong, that there’s something off about a situation. So, it’s wanting to have an open mind when it comes to human trafficking.” – Eligia Milan shared some of the information LAS uses to educate our communities and generate awareness around trafficking
“The Violence Against Women Act has some provisions in it for immigrant victims specifically, and while the focus of the law really is on victims of domestic violence, there are certain cases where domestic violence intersects with human trafficking, where individuals are trafficked sometimes by their spouses. So if the trafficker or the abuser is a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident, the individual who has been victimized, if they’re married to that person, could be eligible for relief.” – Kimberly Fay explained the types of relief LAS can provide (including VAWA, above, as well as U-Visas and T-Visas)
The Legal Aid Society is a member of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, which shared information and resources on human trafficking throughout the month. Visit them on Facebook or at www.cookcountytaskforce.org.