During his first term in Congress, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Republican from suburban Winfield who was elected in 2010, represented Lee County and parts of Whiteside and Bureau counties in the former 14th House District.
Sauk Valley issues on a congressman’s radar traditionally include agriculture, manufacturing, education, energy, and the economy in general.
After the 14th District was redrawn into a mainly suburban district, Hultgren, who was re-elected in 2012, has taken on a much different but very noble cause – combating human trafficking.
Hultgren, who calls human trafficking “a modern form of slavery,” said it plagues our nation and the world, with an estimated 21 million people worldwide – men, women and children – exploited through forced prostitution or forced labor.
“We hear of girls in Africa being sold into slavery, but this problem extends even to our own backyards,” Hultgren said last week.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to what’s going on in the shadows, and what is at the root cause of it,” he said.
The root causes include an increased demand for prostitution and pornography, and government-sanctioned prostitution, according to Laila Mickelwait of Exodus Cry, an international anti-human trafficking group.
In Illinois, human tracking arrests are centered around Chicago and Cook County, Hultgren wrote in a newspaper column. But 10 percent of human trafficking arrests happen in the collar counties.
It is not too much of a stretch to believe that its victims pass through our region.
Angered by the injustice, Hultgren said he has made it a priority to combat human trafficking.
He has worked to bring awareness to the issue by speaking out against it on various occasions. Last week, Hultgren hosted a presentation for members of Congress and their staffs at the U.S. Capitol about the root causes that fuel sex slavery, and what can be done to stop human trafficking.
Last summer, he hosted a screening in Washington of a documentary about human trafficking and sex slavery.
He joined the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus and was chosen as a member of the Congressional Human Trafficking Task Force. Its goal is to produce legislation to fight the scourge at home and abroad, as well as help the victims.
Hultgren encourages people to be vigilant and look for red flags that might indicate that someone is a human trafficking victim.
Those red flags:
Are people that you know afraid to freely leave their homes or workplaces?
Do they appear scared, submissive, or coached on what to say?
Do they lack personal possessions or a stable living situation?
Are there any signs of physical or mental abuse?
Hultgren encourages people who notice such signs to take them seriously and contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888.
It remains to be seen whether Hultgren’s efforts can make a dent in what he calls “a fast-growing global criminal enterprise that generates $32 billion annually and entraps millions of victims.”
But we are pleased to salute our region’s former congressman for taking up such an important cause.