MOUNT CARMEL — Many think slavery ended a long time ago, but there are more slaves now than there has been in any point in history. There are more than 20 million slaves are in the world today, said David Matthews, a licensed clinical social worker in southern Illinois who specializes in treating abused, neglected and adopted children.
Matthews gave an informative presentation at the Wabash County Project Success Coalition meeting Wednesday, April 12, about how to recognize signs of human trafficking, and how and why it happens even here in places like Mount Carmel.
"We thought slavery went away with the Civil War — that's not true," he said. "Poverty breeds slaves and we have lots of these victims in the U.S. right now. In fact, there's probably about 26,000 kids being sexually marketed in the U.S. right now."
Those 26,000 are not exclusive to big cities like Chicago or New York, Matthews continued. The human trafficking of children can happen in any community, even in the rural Midwest. The victims of human trafficking come from all walks of life, and can be any age, race and gender.
"There was a van that came down interstate 57 that had 'one time specials,'" Matthews said. "And 'one time specials' were little boys that got delivered to houses for sex — and this was in a small town just west of here on interstate 57."
One in eight children who run away from home get involved in sex trafficking, due to the nature of hitch hiking, Matthews said.
Local advocacy groups are trying to combat the epidemic, however. Groups like Torch, Truckers Against Trafficking and Ink 180 all have unique ways in which help stop human trafficking.
Torch works to raise awareness and educate communities, Truckers Against Trafficking trains semi drivers to look for signs of human trafficking at truck stops and Ink 180 provides free cover-up tattoos to erase the barcode most victims are branded with while they are in slavery.
There are three kinds of human trafficking, including forced labor, domestic servitude and sex trafficking. Adults and children become victims of these crimes for various reasons, Matthews said.
"Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation," the Department of Homeland Security website explains. "They look for people who are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters or political instability."
To report suspected human trafficking, call 1-866-347-2423 or to get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, call or text 1-888-373-7888.
More information can be found online at www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign.