CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new report from Shared Hope International has given Illinois an "F" grade for its handling of child sex and human trafficking.
The organization said while the state has improved in some areas, more resources are needed.
Brenda Myers Powell is child sex trafficking survivor, who was forced into sex work at the age of 14. She said Illinois is still struggling to fund resources to help survivors and victims of trafficking.
"Don't be fooled. There's not a place in Chicago like that, that can help women get their lives back on track," she said.
Powell said many trafficking victims, like herself, end up in jail.
"You locked up for your protection," she said. "You're like, what did I do? We just wanted to, you know, keep you safe in jail."
"We found that 90% of arrests that were made for prostitution and the sex trade, were people who were selling sex in other words, people who are engaged in prostitution," said Elizabeth Payne, CAASE Legal Director.
Payne said that means less than 10% of arrests for prostitution are pimps, traffickers, or those buying sex.
"The legal system has a long sustained history of dehumanizing individuals who come from vulnerable communities," she said.
Shared Hope International's annual report card, which grades Illinois on current state trafficking statutes, gives the state a "B" in criminal provisions, but an "F" in the areas of continued care for victims, prevention and training for those in law enforcement, juvenile justice agencies and prosecutors.
"We are one of the hubs for human trafficking. We need help. We need some facilities to help us get rid of this epidemic," said Powell.
Powell, who is CEO of survivor support organization Ernestine's Daughter, said that help starts with state funding.
According to the Illinois Office of Management and Budget, just over $115 million is dedicated to funds supporting services for gender based violence, such as sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.
But out of that $115 million, just $100,000 goes to specialized services for victims of human trafficking, or less than 1%.
There is work being done to improve how the state handles human trafficking, including a new law that allows a judge to consider if a minor charged with a crime is the victim of trafficking.
"We have to do more, if we want more. It's time to step up," Powell said.
The Department of Human Services said they have taken initiative to address the issues, including more prevention and training for the Department of Children and Family Services, creating the Trafficking Enforcement Bureau to combat exploitation, and training over 1,000 state officers to handle sex trafficking cases.
Full response from state of Illinois
Shared Hope International's report is not based on any work they have done in the state of Illinois on a very serious issue, and as a result is incomplete. When contacted, the organization was unaware of already existing state laws which are part of a proactive approach to identifying and combatting labor exploitation and human trafficking.
What they failed to mention is that under Governor Pritzker's leadership, the State of Illinois has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our domestic violence and human trafficking prevention infrastructure. Since 2018, DHS has broadened the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to include cash assistance and food assistance to non-citizen Victims of Trafficking, Torture, or Other Serious Crimes (VTTC), with $185 million allotted to TANF in FY24 alone. DHS also requires that hotels and lodging establishments must train employees on recognition of human trafficking and protocols for reporting this activity to the proper authorities. Employees are required to complete trainings within six months of being hired and every two years after.
These efforts also include robust funding for domestic violence shelters, education and awareness trainings for young people through DCFS, and specialized services for survivors of human trafficking. In addition, the Illinois State Police established a Trafficking Enforcement Bureau two years ago, focused on combatting the manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable people, resulting in dozens of arrests and training of hundreds of officers in human trafficking enforcement.
There are, however, forms of exploitation that do not fall within the statutory definition of human trafficking but have elements of employment discrimination. In cases where criminal trafficking prosecution is not possible, pursuing justice through the Illinois Human Rights Act is a viable option for protecting the rights of victims and securing remedies for them. We will continue working closely with other state and local anti-human trafficking organizations, government agencies, law enforcement, prosecutors, health care leaders, mental health and substance abuse providers, the judiciary, and dozens of other stakeholders to effectively identify, respond to, and provide care for both child and adult victims of human trafficking in a victim-centered, trauma informed manner.