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Rep. Wheeler sponsors bill requiring availability of human trafficking resources

Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake
Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 4340, legislation sponsored by state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, into law Friday to bolster the Human Trafficking Resource Center Notice Act and maximize its effect.

In 2015, Wheeler passed the measure. The act requires the posting of information about the National Human Trafficking resource center at specific businesses and establishments known to be frequented by victims of trafficking or associated with human trafficking activities. The Illinois Department of Labor is tasked with ensuring compliance with the law, but the department lacks the resources to properly do so.

Although Illinois has seen the number of phone calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline rise from 473 in 2012 to 673 in 2017, these numbers pale in comparison with other states. In the same period, Ohio, which implemented similar legislation but with tighter enforcement laws and expanded notice posting requirements, saw a rise from 459 to 1,113 calls.

“The differences between us and the states that really enforce these notices are stark and frankly heartbreaking,” Wheeler said. “Illinois ranks among the top states for human trafficking cases, and Chicago is considered to be a national hub for human trafficking because of the role it plays as a major convention city. There are many victims out there that can be saved at no cost to the state if people only knew where to turn or what to do.”

The vast majority of the tips the center receives does not come from victims, but from concerned members of the community, which is why making information about resources more readily available to the public is so important. HB 4340 removes IDOL as the primary enforcer of compliance with the law and instead shifts the role to the governmental entity regulating the particular establishments and local law enforcement who are better equipped to handle the responsibility.

Information gathered by the Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force helped to craft this legislation, a panel on which Wheeler served. In addition, Wheeler, a noted human trafficking advocate, was contacted by tattoo parlor owners who shined a light on the industrywide ignorance of what to do in cases where they suspect human trafficking. Similar to how slaves were branded by their owners, purveyors of so-called “modern slavery” often take their victims to tattoo parlors so that if they ever run away, they can be tracked back and returned to their captors. 

Some tattoo artists have caught on to this trend and offer their services to remove these brands for free, among those being INK180, a nonprofit based in Oswego. Removing these brands is an important reintegration step for survivors on their journey to move on from their victim status.

As a result, HB 4340 further expands the locations where the notice must be posted to include massage parlors (one of the top human trafficking-related industries), certain large public events and gatherings, schools and tattoo and piercing parlors.

“Not only does this new law contain the best practices of states that have made great strides in reaching human trafficking victims and concerned citizens, but it makes Illinois a state leader in combating human trafficking. No other state requires posting at public events or schools.” Wheeler said. “By publicizing these notices and resources, victims will know they are not alone, and Illinoisans who see suspicious behavior will know what to do and have the potential to make a life-saving impact on someone.”

HB 4340 is effective immediately.

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