CHICAGO — Human trafficking has been making headlines lately after more than 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram last month.
But while Chicagoans may think that issue is half a world away, local law enforcement leaders say the human trafficking is a major problem right here too.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is partnering with the FBI, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and the Cook County Sheriff's Office to launch an awareness campaign about human trafficking, particularly of minors, here in Chicago.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the issue is something that gets lost when compared with high-profile human trafficking abroad, like in Nigeria.
"Within our own city, our own county, in the state, trafficking goes on and goes on all the time," Dart said at a press conference at the Thompson Center Tuesday. "It's local children being trafficked by local people. It's the same horrific nightmare."
The campaign aims to define what the issue looks like in Illinois and encourage people to report the problem to authorities.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said Chicago currently ranks third in the number of calls to the national hotline to report human trafficking.
"We are a transportation hub. We are a convention hub," Alvarez said of Chicago. "So we are ripe for this type of crime."
Dart and Alvarez said human traffickers use all the tools at their disposal to lure woman and children, including using social media like Facebook and even recruiting young girls to infiltrate high schools.
Ricardo Pagan, assistant special agent in charge of human trafficking, said those who commit these crimes are "very resourceful."
"The general public has no idea how prevalent this crime is," Pagan said.
For example, Pagan said at last year's Super Bowl, the FBI arrested about 150 "pimps and their associates" and recovered 106 commercially-exploited children.
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