Human sex trafficking is a problem throughout the country, even in Kane County.
"I think the typical perception of the public is that things like this only happen in big cities and cities far away on the other side of the ocean," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said during his monthly media briefing on March 12. "That could not be further from the truth. This scourge exists here in Kane County."
To help eliminate the problem, the Aurora Police Department has been jointly conducting sting operations with the United States Department of Homeland Security in the last few years. The Kane County State's Attorney's Office also worked on those operations.
"We were actually approached by Homeland Security back at the end of 2014," Aurora Police Special Operations Group Sgt. Alfredo Dean said during the media briefing. "I was a little hesitant because I didn't think we would be very successful in it. Then it was explained to me on how the operations would work and that the western suburbs, not just Aurora, was pretty much an untouched resource for these type of activities."
The five stings that have been conducted in Kane County going back to 2014 have resulted in 14 arrests. All but one case has been resolved.
"Every other case that we have charged has either gone to trial and resulted in a finding of guilt or there was a plea of guilty," McMahon said.
All those charged have been sent to prison. As the sting operations have revealed, those arrested in the sting operations do not fit any stereotype.
"I think everybody has a perception of what the creepy old dude that's going after young girls looks like," Dean said. "And you actually see some of these customers that show up and you're completely flabbergasted that they are educated people dressed up in a suit and tie, and very well off."
As McMahon noted, human trafficking involves a "network of individuals that traffic women and sometimes children as well."
"Often, they move those victims from location to location after a short period of time," he said. "The human traffickers, the people who are organizing this, they generally target vulnerable victims who tend to suffer from either some type of abandonment, homelessness, long standing mental or emotional abuse or sustained unemployment and financial difficulties. These traffickers kind of dangle this idea of consistent income and a place to sleep and somebody who will protect them. In exchange for that, they force them into what is essentially sexual enslavement for these victims."
Nationwide, Homeland Security last year reported that 849 cases were initiated across the country, resulting in about 1,600 individuals being arrested for trying to patronize underage prostitutes, McMahon said.
The sting operations have several goals, he said.
"Obviously we want to attack the demand side, people who are trying to patronize underage girls or engage in soliciting a prostitute," McMahon said. "But the other goal here is to access information about any other places that they have engaged an underage prostitute as well. And that often leads us to the victims. The goal is to accomplish both, attack the demand side but also get to information and people that are engaged on the supply side as well."
The Kane County State's Attorney's Office will try to get those victims the help they need.
"The goal there is to get those individuals services," McMahon said. "That may be counseling, that may be housing, that may be attempts to reunify with family. It may be placement in DCFS. That's our focus for them, to get them resources so they have opportunities to get out of that situation."
He noted that in some cases, the victims aren't underage prostitutes but are in a forced labor situation.
"It's a legitimate business on its face, but the way they are operating on the back end, they are not paying wages or the employee does not have the protection of labor laws," McMahon said.