Stop Human Trafficking

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

By: Ashmar Mandou

Officer Lourdes Nieto has made it her life’s mission to raise awareness and educate communities across the city about human trafficking. Nieto hosts bi-monthly workshops at Rudy Lozano Library, with one occurring this Saturday, Sept. 5th. The workshop is free and open to the public. Nieto shared tips on what community members can do to become more knowledgeable about this prevalent issue.

Lawndale Bilingual Newspaper: On Saturday, Sept. 5th at the Rudy Lozano Library, you will be hosting a human trafficking workshop for the community of Little Village. What type of preparation goes into putting together a workshop that educates residents about human trafficking?

Lourdes Nieto: Experience, knowledge and the ‘want’ to do it. I’ve been involved in anti-human trafficking efforts for over five years, attending conferences, trainings, online courses, anything I could get my hands on to better educate myself and in turn get to a point where I felt comfortable educating others. Thankfully, I have amazing partnerships, such as with the Lozano Library that helps me to spread the word by allowing me to drop anchor at the library bi-monthly. I, along with my projector and my power-point presentation, bring the information to the library so that the information is accessible to the community.

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Through your years of experience bringing this critical issue to the forefront, what have been the recurring questions asked by residents?

“What is human trafficking?” “This doesn’t happen here, does it?” “Does this only happen to women?” “Does this only happen to people in bad neighborhoods or from bad families?” “Why don’t the victims runaway if they aren’t chained up?” and many more, but these are the main ones.

What should residents know about human trafficking? How can they be more aware of what is going on in their community?

People should know that human trafficking, both sex and labor trafficking can occur anywhere, to anyone, and the traffickers can be anyone. You don’t have to be physically chained up to be in bondage. The psychological and emotional bondage is often more detrimental and more binding that any form of physical restraints so to say a victim is ‘willing’ only because she stays is incorrect. We have victims that are brought from other countries and we have victims that are born and raised here in the United States, human trafficking does not discriminate and the common theme amongst the victims is vulnerability. The trafficker will target a victim’s vulnerability until she’s broken down and trapped. Community members need to keep their eyes and ears open, learn how to identify the red flags. The internet is a great resource, use it, all you have to do is Google “humnan trafficking” and “anti-human trafficking organizations” to find resources and organizations such as the Polaris Project, Salvation Army-Stop It Program, Traffick Free and many other organizations which I consider leaders in the anti-human trafficking community. Parents need to be aware of their school aged children; they are a very vulnerable population and a target for traffickers.

What drew you to the issue of human trafficking?

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I first became aware of the issue, about 6 or 7 years when I was member of a church and I was part of their mission ministry. A representative of an organization(I cant recall which organization) that conducts rescue efforts of young girls and women who are victims of sex trafficking in India, came to speak to us about possibly flying to India and help in their efforts. My first instinct, like most people, was to fly to India ASAP. Unfortunately, due to safety issues those plans didn’t come to fruition. But the seed had already been planted and on my own began to research, attend trainings and conferences, volunteered with different organizations and realized human trafficking wasn’t an issue only in India, it was happening in the United States, in Illinois, in Chicago, and in Pilsen.

What is the takeaway message you would like residents to leave with after they attend the workshop?

Most people I encounter say “well what can I do, I’m just one person and this is dangerous”……I don’t expect anyone to run out tearing down doors trying to “rescue” victims……but I do believe 1 person can change the course of another persons life just by being aware and knowing what to do. With the knowledge, the awareness, knowing who to call and what information to communicate to the proper authorities, you can help change a persons life. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number (888-373-7888) is open 24/7, anyone can call with any tips or information and it’s confidential and they can also contact the Cook County Sheriff’s crime tip.

If anyone would like more information on future training session, ways in which they can donate their time or support financially and request information they can reach out to the following:

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