CARBONDALE — U.S. Rep. Mike Bost has supported a trio of human trafficking bills that, if approved, would provide more resources for health departments and law enforcement agencies trying to tackle the problem.

The bills are the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act (HR 2200), which authorizes $130 million to fund the prevention of human trafficking and protect victims and prosecute traffickers; the Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act (HR 2664), which ensures the Department of Labor can effectively train its employees to spot the illegal trade of people and respond quickly and effectively when cases are detected; and the Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act (HR 2480), which expands the eligibility for Department of Justice grants to allow law enforcement agencies to qualify for federal funds to develop and execute programs that fight sex trafficking.

All three bills passed the House of Representatives in late July and have been introduced into the Senate.

This past year, the state of Illinois ranked ninth in terms of cases of human trafficking reported, according to the Human Trafficking Hotline. This past year, the vast number of the 622 reported calls came from members of the community (188); followed by those being subjected to the trafficking themselves (99); and those who were victimized by other crimes (66).

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as "modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act."

The third bill in the sequence could have the greatest impact locally, according to Bost's office, as it enables law enforcement officers to to compete for federal funding to fight the issue.

This could be through the creation of programs that fight sex-trafficking demand, such as programs in which police officers pose as women engaged in street-level prostitution to seek to capture buyers trying to exploit people they think are in these positions, according to staff in the representative's office.

This past October, Melissa Jackson and members of her Du Quoin-based Vision Church led 200-some people in a three-mile walk of solidarity — a "Walk For Freedom" — in concert with other walks held across the nation and world in affiliation with the A-21 organization. That group is a faith-based organization that calls attention to the problems of sex trafficking.  Another walk is being planned for Carbondale later this year.

The next month, Centerstone hosted its second workshop on the topic, attracting dozens of social service and health-care providers, educators, law enforcement representatives and others, to the day-long workshop at John A. Logan College.

As of Jan. 1, certain businesses in the state were required by law to post information about human trafficking and to show the hotline number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 888-373-7888.

Those businesses include establishments where the sale of alcohol is the primary business (primary to the sale of food); adult entertainment facilities; primary airports; intercity passenger rail or light rail stations; bus stations; truck stops; emergency rooms with general acute care hospitals; urgent care centers; farm labor contractors; and private job recruitment centers, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The notices are in English and Spanish (or some other language dominant in the posted area) and are to be placed in a conspicuous site near the public entrance. A downloaded copy of the notice is available online.

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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