By Mary Abowd
Human trafficking, often referred to as modern-day slavery, will be the topic of an open house and discussion from noon to 4 p.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.
Defined as the illegal practice of obtaining an adult or child through force, fraud, or coercion and profiting from their labor or commercial sex acts, human trafficking affects an estimated 21 million worldwide, yet can be difficult to identify and prosecute.
"It's an issue that has been in the shadows but is having an effect in communities around the city," said William Towns, a lead open-house organizer and the assistant vice president of neighborhood initiatives in the University of Chicago's Office of Civic Engagement. "We want to shine some light on the matter and talk about solutions and where help is."
The open house will feature special guest Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam, who has made the issue of human trafficking a priority in Washington. "Human trafficking unfortunately has a very real presence in the Chicagoland area," Roskam said. "Events like this are so important because they bring much-needed attention to the issue."
Roskam recently helped pass bipartisan legislation in the House that promotes data sharing to fight trafficking in the foster care system. He said he also is working to close loopholes in the system to identify sex traffickers. "Together we can expose the threat of human trafficking, protect vulnerable populations and make our communities safer," he added.
The event will kick off with a panel on human trafficking in Chicago, moderated by Fox 32 journalist Robin Robinson. In her own reporting on sex trafficking, Robinson found that most targets are girls under age 18. "They were victims of sex abuse at home," she said. "Most are runaways, throwaways." The average lifespan of someone who is sex trafficked is seven years from the time they start, she added.
Robinson's panel will be followed by afternoon sessions featuring "Trafficking 101" presentations by experts dealing with the problem, including the FBI/Chicago Police Department Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force.
The Office of Civic Engagement planned the event in partnership with the School of Social Service Administration; a particular focus will be on how social service providers can better identify clients who are victims of trafficking and get them help.
"A forum like this is important to raise awareness among students about trafficking, particularly of young people," said Neil Guterman, dean of the School of Social Service Administration and the Mose and Sylvia Firestone Professor. "It draws together researchers, law enforcement, and those training for careers in social work to think and strategize about how we can stop this widespread form of human exploitation."
The open house is part of the Office of Civic Engagement's UChicago Engages event series, which brings together University students and faculty and members of the community around important urban and social issues. Sponsors include the FBI Chicago Citizens Academy Alumni Association, the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement, the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, and the School of Social Service Administration's Student Government Association.
It is free and open to the public, but space is limited. Please visit uchicago.edu/community/uchicago_engages for more information and to register.