Panelists educate the community on human trafficking in our area

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Human trafficking is a major concern in our community, so much that leaders meet Thursday night to try to combat the problem and share ways to identify it. U.S. Congressman Adam Kinzinger hosts a human trafficking forum to educate the community on this wide growing crime.

One woman shares her personal experience with human trafficking and how she's now helping other communities reduce the number of arrests. She explains how she changed her life around after escaping the trafficking.

"I’ve been raped, beaten, kidnapped, and left for dead," says Human Trafficking Coordinator for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Marian Hatcher.

Hatcher is a survivor who was a victim of human trafficking for two years. Now she's telling her story.

"It was domestic violence, which led to drug use, which led to prostitution, which then led to trafficking. I was missing for almost 2 years," says Hatcher.

Hatcher says she spent years living on a mattress in a basement until help arrived.

"It was so much shame and guilt, but I couldn't find my way back, so I was rescued literally by the Angels with Handcuffs,” says Hatcher.

City and state leaders say Hatcher isn't alone. Human trafficking arrests in Winnebago County have grown from 10 in 2009, to almost 90 in 2014. They're discussing ways to work to stop it.

"It’s just trying to get the community to contact and call us. We need to take off the buyers, the purchasers, the controllers, the pimps, the Johns, that’s who we're after," says Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea.

Chief O'Shea encourages the community to keep an eye out for anything that may seem suspicious.

"There are people out there who know who's doing it and who they are. We need them to reach out and tell us who they are," says Chief O’Shea.

Hatcher believes she's finally found her purpose of helping other human trafficking victims.

"Nobody at seven years old says I want to be on drugs. They don't say I want someone to treat me like a piece of meat. None of us were born with a bar code or price tag, and we should not ever be treated as though that's acceptable," says Hatcher.

Hatcher says she is now happy helping victims herself. She says the first step is speaking up and asking for help. The Rockford Rescue Mission and Salvation Army also had speakers at the forum talking about how they are always willing to help victims.

There will be a similar human trafficking event taking place next Friday morning at Giovanni’s at 9:15.