Thirty members of Straford Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chicago, Illinois, United States, stood on a city block on the evening of Saturday, January 18, 2020, to take a physical stand against human sex trafficking in the area.
Church member Victoria Davis Hollins, who also serves as the statewide human trafficking program manager for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), was one of the volunteers in attendance for the event, and she said that the church sees firsthand the need for such an event.
Right outside their doors is a sex trafficking hotspot. These spots are called “tracks,” where men, women, and children are commercialized. Hollins said the aim is to provide outreach to the victims and let them know where they can go for help.
“I announced [the event] one week in church, and by the next week, I had supplies coming in,” Hollins said. “The members just jumped right in.”
The community-wide event, called “GIRLS Night Out: A Stroll Through the City,” was held on January 11, 2020, on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The event is the brainchild of Kisha Roberts-Tabb, a Cook County juvenile probation officer and founder of Roberts-Tabb & Associates, a non-profit organization aimed at helping girls ages 13 to 18.
Roberts-Tabb said she has been organizing this event for the past two years, and she felt compelled to start the initiative because she wanted to bring awareness to sex trafficking in black and brown communities.
“The way we’ve seen sex trafficking portrayed across the city, across the state, and even nationally, we don’t tie it to poverty, we don’t tie it to adolescent minority women and boys,” she said. “It’s usually portrayed as something that goes on elsewhere, that goes on in another country.”
But the statistics are hard to dismiss. Chicago is currently in the top five cities in the United States for sex trafficking crimes, according to Selah Freedom, a national organization that helps to fight child trafficking. In the U.S., roughly 300,000 are at risk of this crime every year. Boys and girls are, on average, bought and sold at between 12 and 14 years old. Once a child is in this situation, they may be sold 15 to 40 times every 24 hours.
In 2019, Illinois DCFS investigated 255 allegations of human trafficking of children, 119 of those in Cook County. A number of experts believe that figure is lower than the actual number of incidents which occurred during that time.
Often, victims of human trafficking do not seek help because they are fearful, ashamed of their situation, distrust law enforcement, or become dependent on the perpetrator.
The rally, which kicked off at Delta Alumni House near downtown Chicago, featured representatives from several government and non-profit agencies, including the Chicago Police Department, Cook County Sheriff's Office, the state legislature, and DCFS Administration, as well as other churches such as New Covenant Baptist Church. “It was truly a community event,” Hollins said.
At the end of the rally, volunteers fanned out into the community with “love bags” containing toiletries, snacks, pamphlets, and other materials, to walk in the rally against domestic human trafficking. Church members offered to pray with those they came in contact with.
“It was cool to see an intergenerational approach,” said Khris Jones, an elder at the Straford Adventist church, who remarked on the support from young and old. “There’s definitely a willingness to go back out there.”