Recent developments like classes for area health care workers and the passing of an Asian bodyworks ordinance by the Pekin City Council have raised public awareness that human trafficking is a local issue in addition to being a national and international problem.

Through its work with victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse or assault, the Peoria-based social services organization The Center for Prevention of Abuse has been aware of the existence of human trafficking for years. Having identified a need for services tailored toward survivors of human trafficking, the center established a victims of human trafficking division early last year, according to Sefried. However, the center had been providing services to survivors of human trafficking for several years prior to opening the new division.

We have a 44-year history of providing quality services  and specialized services to victims of a variety of crimes,” said Sara Sefried, director of human trafficking services for the Center for Prevention of Abuse. “We came into it with that experience and expertise. We noticed, when we were providing services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault that there was a need in our community for human trafficking services as well.” 

Sefried added that setting up a victims of human trafficking division was not a difficult transition. The Center already had experienced, highly trained personnel in place. All that was needed was funding, which the United States Department of Justice took care of by providing a specialized three-year grant totalling $229,000.

“It’s federal funding that comes through to provide specialized services to trafficking survivors,” said Sefried. “We were selected because of the high volume of phone calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline from our area.”

Since setting up the new division, Sefried added, the Center has provided services to 54 victims of human trafficking and is consistently getting two or three client referrals each month. The majority of the clients have been female and have been coerced into providing sexual services by an intimate partner or a family member. She estimated that about 83 percent of the clients are from central Illinois: a clear demonstration that human trafficking is a local issue.

Often, people think trafficking is an issue that only happens in other countries” Sefried said. “Or, if it does happen in the United States, it’s to undocumented immigrants. What we’re finding is the majority of the survivors reaching out for our help are U.S. citizens from our local area.”

All Center for Prevention of Abuse services are free and confidential, Sefried added. The Center offers support in the form of emergency shelters in Peoria and Pekin, case management, counseling, orders of protection, legal advocacy, a 24-hour a day, seven day a week crisis hotline, and education to victims or their families.

For our human trafficking program, we provide services as far north as Kankakee all the way down (to southern Illinois),” she said. “Our main service area is 46 counties out of 102. We have a large service area and that, quite frankly, is due to the lack of resources for survivors of trafficking within our state.”

The human trafficking services program has been successful because it has provided the Center with a new opportunity to serve central Illinois, said Camille Yameen, director of marketing and communications for the Center. Partnerships with area law enforcement agencies, hospitals and first responders have also been a major contributing factor in the program’s success to date.

“It’s very clear human trafficking isn’t going away any time soon,” Yameen said. “We continue to increase the number of survivors served through referrals from other service providers, from individuals calling our crisis hotline, or referrals from law enforcement or community partners. We have some great partners on board and we have done a lot of training with (those partners). Increasing knowledge in our community is a huge pillar to (the human trafficking services) program. The more people learn about trafficking, the more we anticipate they’re going to see it in front of them.”

Sefried concurred with Yameen that education and training are vital weapons in any war on human trafficking in any community.

“I think human trafficking isn’t always what is portrayed in the media;” she said. “Typically, it occurs on a more discreet level. It’s happening just underneath the surface and it’s often hidden in plain sight. It’s really important for people to get information  about this crime, because we’re never going to be able to stop this horrific issue if we’re not educated on it and know how to spot to it. We’re in a really unique position because we’re the only organization within the state that’s sanctioned to provide comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse, abuse to adults with disabilities and human trafficking all under one roof. “

For more information about Center for Prevention of Abuse services, visit www.centerforpreventionofabuse.org.