Human Trafficking in DuPage County?
During the past several weeks, I have visited a domestic violence shelter in DuPage County, attended an informational forum on Human Trafficking, and sat for the first meeting of the DuPage County Ad Hoc Adult Business Committee, on which I serve as vice chair.
Domestic violence. Human trafficking. Adult businesses.
In a way, all of these terrible things are woven together, since their victims are primarily women and girls. And all of these things happen right here in our community—DuPage County.
Domestic violence can’t be a big problem in affluent DuPage County, can it?
On the contrary, the DuPage County Health Department has identified domestic violence and child abuse/neglect as two of the top five major public health concerns here. Additionally, DuPage crime data indicates that domestic violence is the county’s second most-prevalent offense, and only a small percentage of domestic violence incidences are even reported to authorities.
According to the Family Shelter Service in DuPage County, every year, nationally, two million women are severely assaulted by their male partners. The number of children who witness domestic violence is 3.3 million. Forty percent of teenage girls (ages 14 to 17) report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
Judie Caribeaux is the executive director of Family Shelter Service, which is a nonprofit agency that provides shelter and counseling to domestic violence victims. In January, Caribeaux gave me a tour of the facility, which does amazing work in our community. In addition to being an emergency shelter for dozens of families, they also offer counseling (one-on-one and in groups); child and family counseling to help children develop coping skills; help with legal issues, including obtaining Orders of Protection; and provide a 24/7 crisis intervention hotline. If you or someone you know could use these services, that number is 630-469-5650.
I had expected the shelter to be cold and institutional. Instead, Judie and her incredible staff have created an atmosphere of warmth, family, and home. Unfortunately, more is needed to help domestic violence victims in DuPage County, as 1,200 people were turned away last year alone.
On a frigid night in January, I attended an eye-opening forum about Human/Sex Trafficking at the Glen Ellyn Police Department. The program was presented by Simone Halpin of Naomi’s House, a residential program designed to help victims of human trafficking.
The sense that human trafficking can’t be in DuPage County is dead wrong. In fact, experts estimate there are 24,000 victims of human trafficking in the Chicago area alone.
Halpin spoke of one young woman in her early 20s, whom she had met at a Naperville sandwich shop. While they were talking, all of the sudden the young woman froze up and acted nervous. The victim acknowledged her (former) abuser was there working in that restaurant.
One of the law enforcement officials who spoke at the forum said the disgusting reality is this that if there’s human trafficking here, that means there’s an appetite for human trafficking victims here. That breaks my heart.
Why don’t the victims just leave and run away from their abusers? The Naomi’s House website explains traffickers provoke feelings of fear, dependency, and helplessness in their victims. The constant threats and an environment of fear prevent victims from leaving or seeking help. Also, many traffickers get their victims hooked on drugs, so the women/girls become completely dependent upon their abusers. These young women (and girls) are coerced into a life they couldn’t have imagined.
Adult Businesses are categorized as any business limited to “adults only” customers. Bars and liquor stores are exempt from this definition because they are licensed by the state. Likewise, legitimate massage-type businesses, which are also state-licensed.
Paul Hoss is the planning and zoning administration coordinator for the DuPage County Building and Zoning Department. A 27-year employee, Hoss says the county zoning definition of an adult business is, “one in which a significant or substantial portion of the use involves an activity distinguished or characterized by its emphasis on matters depicting, describing, or relating to specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas.”
The greatest threat of adult businesses is the negative secondary impact on their communities, including prostitution, drug sales, drug use, or violence.
Adult businesses are free to operate due to freedom of speech and of expression, but according to DuPage zoning requirements, they must do so in the more industrial areas of the county.
To mitigate the negative secondary impacts on communities with adult businesses, Hoss says that over the next several weeks, a detailed record will be created that will support the need to develop a new Comprehensive Adult Business Regulatory Program through the Ad Hoc Adult Business Committee of the DuPage County Board.
Ad Hoc Adult Business Committee Chairwoman Julie Renehan says her goal is to have enough information to take to the full board by April. The next Ad Hoc Adult Business Committee meeting is scheduled for February 12 at 12:30 p.m. in Room 3500-B at the DuPage County campus, 421 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton. All meetings are open to the public.
I will definitely keep you posted on the committee’s findings in my continued effort to #BuildABetterDuPage.