Illinois ranks among top for human trafficking cases

ILLINOIS (WAND) - Human trafficking is one of the most under reported crimes, but according to UNICEF U.S.A., it is also the second largest crime industry in the world.

Among the human trafficking cases, according to the Human Trafficking Hotline, the vast majority of those cases are sex trafficking. The hotline also reports there have been 4,460 cases reported in the states for the first half of 2017. Among those cases, 3,698 of those affected were female, 607 were male and 53 were identified as gender minorities.

According to the hotline, Illinois ranks 10th for the number of reported cases in the states for the first half of 2017 with 100 cases, following Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Of the 100 cases, 83 of those affected were female. 

One woman who survived sex trafficking is Breese, Illinois resident Patricia McKnight, who says her step-father and his friends sexually abused her. She says her last happy memory was at the age of 5 when she visited her father and grandparents who lived out of state. She says when she came home that day, she met the most terrifying man who her mother later married.

McKnight says he abused her and at only 9-years-old, he raped her with the barrel of his favorite shotgun. She says he sexually abused her for years, and her mother knew but did nothing to help. When she was very young, she says her mother walked in on her husband and daughter in bed naked and he was preparing to rape her. At that point, her mother yelled at her and told her to go to her room. For years, the same thing happened, but her mother chose to ignore it.

"It was my 11th birthday and they had fed me double vodka and orange juice all day. A couple of guys came in to shoot pool and I was asked which one I thought was cute," McKnight says as she recalls a terrifying night. "And when I pointed out as an 11 year old girl already been sexually stimulated by what had been going on for quite some time, of course I pointed to one. And when I did, he went over and offered me out for the price of a couple of beers."

As years went by, her step-father had the same behavior. If they were not at bars, he would invite his friends and even boys from her class to their house for parties. The man would buy beer and have men and boys take her in to the room and "give her what she deserves."

McKnight says she remembered feeling alone and horrified, but she had no one to turn to as her mother ignored it, her sister was too young to understand, and her brother never stepped in to help. 

She says she felt to blame for what happened because her mother told her Patricia allowed it. Cristen Seiders, a therapist for Growing Strong, a sexual assault agency in Decatur, says many victims of sexual assault like sex trafficking feel at fault. Seiders says that is why many of the victims take years to come forward, leading to the fact the crime is so under reported.

As time passed for Patricia, she said she was 17 before she could escape her step-father. She was working at the time and worked with a boy who lived out of town. She says she was not allowed to date anyone in their small town. When she started dating him, he asked her to move in with him. She went home that day, talked to her mother about moving out and recalls her mother saying, "Pack your bags. The house will be a lot quieter without you."

Even though McKnight escaped her originally abuser and trafficker, she says her journey of abusive boyfriends continued to leave her in a dark place. "I've had more weapons than I could count pointed at my head. One tried to drown me and tied me up and held me captive in the bedroom, and that one even offered me for 50 bucks to a couple of people. It just continued." She was in her 30s before she met a man who did not hit her. 

Patricia now has three children and lives in Breese, Illinois with her boyfriend of 12 years. She says she is happy that she was able to come to terms with what happened. She says during therapy she wrote a book on what happened to her and she later published the book called 'My Justice' to help others find their voice to speak up about sex trafficking. Now, nearly 50 years later, she is an advocate for getting laws passed that help victims find justice in the legal system.

Congressman Rodney Davis is also a huge advocate for trafficking victims on the political side. he says he has helped get numerous laws passed. "Some of them are as simple as providing techniques to law enforcement officials to recognize human trafficking victims. But we've also made sure that those websites that advertise these victims for sale, they aren't able to do that. It's simple things like that that we're trying to do to clamp down on the access."

Though the crime is still a problem in Illinois, many are doing what they can to find an end to trafficking for survivors just like Patricia McKnight.