ROCKFORD (WREX) – Human trafficking advocates applaud new Illinois laws aiming to help more survivors seek justice against their traffickers.
“The laws send a strong message to abusers in Illinois that we are going to hit you where it hurts, in the pocketbook,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross said.
Survivors of human trafficking will soon be able to sue their trafficker in civil court for money, including punitive damages.
“The abuser or trafficker is profiting monetarily off of the victims, so what this statute allows the victim to do is to recoup the money that the traffickers has made by abusing them,” Hite Ross said.
Another big change will allow family and advocates to pursue civil cases against traffickers on behalf of victims.
But while the new legislation is drawing praise from local advocates, they say there’s still work to be done when it comes to prevention.
“We’ve created legislation for someone who’s healed, who’s out of the work, who’s out of that life and who’s out of that situation to pursue damages, and that’s wonderful,” Rockford Mayor’s Office on Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence Prevention Director Jennifer Cacciapaglia said. “But it negates and ignores the fact that getting them to that point is a heavy lift.”
Heavy lifting, Rockford leaders say they’re working to tackle with the help of the state.
“It is definitely on our radar and is something that we plan to bring to the attention of lawmakers,” Cacciapaglia said.
In the meantime advocates are celebrating a major legislative win in the fight to end human trafficking in Illinois.
“Breaking down those barriers and knowing that the criminal justice system is there to support them and not prosecute them, I think is huge,” Hite Ross said.
Another new law taking effect in 2019 expands the time period for victims to report human trafficking to ten years after the incident.