DeKALB – U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger calls human trafficking modern slavery, and said the way to defeat it is to bring awareness to the issue.
Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who represents Illinois’ 16th District, made a stop Saturday at Faranda’s Banquet Center in DeKalb to speak at the Rotary District 6420 conference. The Rotary Club of Sycamore hosted the one-day conference, which featured Kinzinger as the keynote speaker.
Kinzinger said Illinois is eighth in the nation in human trafficking, and Winnebago County is the second in the state, behind only Chicago. He said that human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, and 72 percent of all victims are young women.
“This is happening right here at home,” Kinzinger said. “The more we know about it, the better we can fight it in our communities. People are trading humans as if they’re commodities. Every person has value, and reminding people of that makes for stronger communities. Rotary brings awareness to issues, and can also offer financial support and education, so I’m happy to be here to speak about it.”
Kinzinger has worked to pass legislation to give grants to law enforcement agencies to not only arrest the human trafficking suppliers, but the users as well. Steve Kuhn, Rotary District 6420 governor, said because Kinzinger is so familiar with the issue, he was a great choice to speak about it at the conference. Kuhn, who also is a member of the Rotary Club of Sycamore, said that Rotary International is looking more closely at human trafficking as a new cause.
“More than 43 million people are involved in human trafficking, and 80 percent of it is occupational, which includes child labor,” Kuhn said. “Rotary wants to be a force of good, and we’re looking at how to identify human trafficking and how to report it.”
Rotary International has long worked to eradicate polio worldwide, and because that goal is almost accomplished, the organization is going to focus more on other issues, including human trafficking, said Stacy Shewer, assistant governor of Rotary District 6420.
“We want to provide an educational aspect to this issue, as well as provide financial support to eradicate it,” she said. “Rotary is a powerful organization. We want to educate teachers to look for signs of human trafficking in young girls. We want police to be sympathetic to victims when making an arrest, and we want hospitals to look for signs in patients.”
Rotary District 6420’s governor-elect, Kathy Kwiatt-Hess of Rockford, said human trafficking is especially important to her, given the prevalence in her hometown.
“We’re still on our mission to eradicate polio, but this seems like the next topic to address,” she said. “Human trafficking is prevalent across all cultures, countries and genders. We’re happy to have [Kinzinger] here because he knows a lot about this issue.”
Andrew Otieno, Rotary Club of Sycamore member, said that he is excited for Rotary to start initiatives to help eradicate human trafficking, and thinks the organization can make a positive difference.
“Where I come from in Kenya, we see [human trafficking] on almost a daily basis,” he said. “I saw the difficulties that the victims go through. It’s definitely something we should educate people about.”