According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal enterprise in the United States, bringing in a total of 63 billion dollars a year. Additionally, anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, geographic location, or socio-economic status, can become a victim. This is why MOMS Taking Charge chose to take charge of the epidemic in Northwest Indiana.
On Thursday, June 8, MOMS Taking Charge, a nonprofit program run by Healthy East Chicago, held an informational seminar at the East Chicago Ivy Tech campus called Human Trafficking: Through the Victim’s Eyes. The four-hour workshop was free to the public.
“We wanted the community to know what human trafficking is about and know the signs to look for it,” said MOMS Taking Charge Family Support Specialist Jenny Diaz.
The conference room at Ivy Tech was filled to capacity for the seminar. Individuals representing a variety of Northwest Indiana industries and organizations were in attendance to learn about how they can be aware of the signs of human trafficking in their circles.
Nichelle Corley and Millie Guevara, Outreach and Enrollment Specialists at HealthLinc Community Health Center in East Chicago, attended the workshop together.
“In outreach, we are with the community, especially the young women, ages 15 – 25,” explained Corley.
“This is great information,” added Guevara. “We could even have some of these presenters speak at our events at the schools.”
After registration, a prayer, and a performance of the National Anthem, the seminar began. The first speaker was Phil Coduti, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security. He gave some background on the legal side of human trafficking and human smuggling before displaying photos and discussing real cases he has experienced, including cases in Crown Point and Hammond.
Agent Coduti emphasized that human trafficking isn’t only a big city problem. It happens in the suburbs, too. Many in attendance had emotional responses to the stories he shared.
The next presenter was a 19-year-old woman from Chicago who became a victim of human trafficking at the age of 15, after she ran away from home. She described being held just blocks from her parents’ house, but being unable to return to them, for fear her captors would kill her. After several months, she was rescued by a local detective and his nonprofit agency, Total Protection Consultants, Inc. Now, she aspires to become a detective and help others who have been victimized.
Carlos Rodriguez is a retired police officer who has used his time in retirement to found an investigative service that works to locate and rescue minors who have become victims of human trafficking. In 2016 alone, Total Protection Consultants had over 50 human trafficking saves in Chicago, nearly double that of the FBI in the Windy City.
Rodriguez discussed the importance of not only rescuing those who have been taken, but continuing to help them after they have returned to ‘normal life.’ He says that “restoring innocence” is their ultimate goal.
Agent Coduti took the podium one last time before the conclusion of the event to implore those in attendance to say something if they see something.
“No tip is too insignificant,” he said, as he showed the Homeland Security phone numbers on the screen.
This was the second year that MOMS Taking Charge has held a human trafficking seminar in East Chicago and they plan to continue to make it an annual event.
For more information on MOMS Taking Charge and their mission to better the community, visit www.FoundationsEC.org.