CRYSTAL LAKE – Two years after presenting “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls” at a local Patriots United-sponsored breakfast, Laila Mickelwait returned Saturday to talk of progress, and hindrances, in the ongoing fight against human trafficking.
Mickelwait, manager of policy and public affairs for an organization called Exodus Cry, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Celebrating Life Unity Breakfast. About 400 people attended the fifth annual event sponsored by the Pro-Family pillar of Patriots United at D’Andrea Banquets in Crystal Lake.
“I’m just so blown away and so blessed personally to come back two years later and see how God has moved in people’s hearts,” Mickelwait said. “I’ve shown ‘Nefarious’ to thousands of people around the world. … It is one thing to be touched by the film, and it is another to say ‘yes,’ and act upon the burden.”
“Nefarious” is an award-winning 2011 documentary regarding modern-day slavery and sex trafficking, a practice that Mickelwait and other event speakers said not only exists in the United States, but is insidious.
U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, who addressed the gathering before Mickelwait, said sex trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the United States, accounting for about $7 billion annually.
Mickelwait presented statistics estimating that between 10 million and 30 million people in the world today are in slavery, a $30 billion-a-year industry. She added that while legislative efforts have been made, the demand and number of victims continues to rise, and called on all in the room to pray as well as take action.
“In developed nations, [sex slavery] is the most prevalent form of human slavery,” she said.
Mickelwait, Hultgren, R-Winfield, former U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo of Egan and panelists State Sen. Karen McConnaughay and Ben Anderson of the Moody Bible Institute all called for an end to pornography as a first step to curbing demand.
“We have this image of ‘Pretty Woman,’ the happy hooker,” Mickelwait said, flipping a slide on a screen presentation to a photo of a sad, bedraggled-looking blonde. “This is the real face of prostitution. The average age of entry is 13 to 14.”
Whether they are drawn in out of financial despair, recruited in a state of youthful vulnerability, sold into the trade by their parents or outright kidnapped, and whether they are minors or middle-aged, Exodus Cry considers many prostitutes a part of human trafficking, Mickelwait said.
“To abolish (trafficking), we have to abolish prostitution and we have to abolish porn,” she said.
Hultgren said that his viewing of “Nefarious” moved him to share it with others in Washington, D.C., and that legislative progress has been made. But more needs to be done, he said.
“We see the connection between prostitution and human trafficking. Where prostitution is allowed and winked at, human trafficking grows,” he said. “Every single child who is pulled into this, every single young woman who is pulled into this, their life is worth fighting for … this is something that can bring Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives together.”
McHenry County Board member Nick Provenzano said regardless of the age of the women allegedly involved, recent prostitution arrests in McHenry County highlight the fact that the county is not immune. The December arrests at a Crystal Lake massage parlor involved women in their 40s and 50s.
“I don’t think anybody who has a viable choice would choose prostitution,” Provenzano said.
Twenty-one-year-old Noelle Viard of Crystal Lake attended Saturday’s breakfast as part of a nonprofit group called Kingdom Sending Center. She said she was pleased to see the turnout and looks forward to seeing how locals respond to the message.
“I’m excited to see the local community rally around seeing women come out of the sex trade, become restored, and get healing and counseling,” she said. “To see that become a passion for the area is really exciting.”
Some in attendance received awards during the event, including Jackie Larson, executive director of Informed Choices, who received the Henry Hyde Celebrating Life Award, and Manzullo, named Patriots United’s Patriot of the Year.