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Advocates see a rise in human trafficking during COVID-19 pandemic

ROCKFORD (WREX) — It's a crime that happens online and behind closed doors. According to experts, human trafficking is expanding during COVID-19.

"In this environment where there's more isolation and in fact business to online pornography sites have increased tremendously," says Jennifer Cacciapaglia. "Anywhere from 40 to 70% depending on the site."

Cacciapaglia leads Rockford's Mayor's Office on Combating Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking. She says human trafficking is a crime that's built on demand.

"There's 60,000 new rooms where pornography is being shared that started since the pandemic. Someone is filling the voids. Someone has to be the body."

Cacciapaglia says there's no doubt this is happening in our community. She points to state statistics that show this area comes in second behind the city of Chicago when it comes to volume of trafficking.

"The north central region," says Cacciapaglia. "That means everyone who's in this community, able to watch this on TV tonight is apart of. We can see trafficking being reported in this area."

Cacciapaglia's concern is who is being targeted in this crime. She says children are the most vulnerable and unaware of the danger they're falling victim to. Young people can make connections with traffickers online, through apps, or even video games. Cacciapaglia is pleading with parents to know who their child is engaging with and where.

"Please make sure that you are checking who your child is speaking with. Be diligent about that. Put restrictions in place you need to. Predators are out there and they looking for people to fill the demand of pornographic community."

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden is the Investigative Reporter at WREX. She joined the team in December 2014 as the evening producer. In 2015 she made the move to evening reporter before joining the 13 Investigates team in May of 2018.

She grew up in Woodstock, Illinois and graduated from Woodstock High School in 2009. Mary graduated with a degree in Journalism and Marketing from Loyola University Chicago in 2013.

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