Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart speaks about a new human trafficking task force during a press conference Wednesday at the Lake County Court Tower in Waukegan. | Photo: Joe Shuman/J. Shuman Photography (2022)

A new task force aimed at fighting human trafficking in Lake County was announced Wednesday and will consist of law enforcement, local and federal prosecutors and victim service providers.

The Lake County Human Trafficking Task Force will be directed by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The task force, which will aim to curb sex and labor trafficking, will be funded by a Department of Justice (DOJ) grant that will go to the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office and A Safe Place, which is a victim-service organization.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart held a press conference Wednesday morning to discuss the task force.

“Traffickers who would threaten, exploit, and abuse others for their own profit will be caught and brought to justice because of this task force,” Rinehart said.

Lake County is the second county in Illinois to secure the competitive grant from the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime.

The grant will provide $750,000 to the state’s attorney’s office and $750,000 to A Safe Place over the span of three years.

[Suggested Article]  2 veterinarians awarded for saving the life of man who stopped breathing in Lake Zurich

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office and A Safe Place were one of only six applicants that received the grant.

A Safe Space CEO Pat Davenport speaks about a new human trafficking task force during a press conference Wednesday at the Lake County Court Tower in Waukegan. | Photo: Joe Shuman/J. Shuman Photography (2022)

A Safe Place is the only organization in Lake County that provides services exclusively for domestic violence and human trafficking, officials said.

The organization said they will use their grant funds to enhance victim support by hiring three victim support professionals.

A Safe Place CEO Pat Davenport spoke during the press conference about how the formation of the task force was a “dream come true.”

Davenport said that the $1.5 million investment in Lake County will allow there to be an infrastructure to support victims while also coordinating with various law enforcement agencies.

“Human trafficking exploits some of the most vulnerable members of our society. It involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or a commercial sex act,” said John Lausch, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

[Suggested Article]  Coroner identifies 44-year-old woman killed in head-on crash near Waukegan

“Every year, thousands of women, children and men are trafficked in the United States, including unfortunately right here in Lake County,” Lausch said during the press conference.

John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, speaks about a new human trafficking task force during a press conference Wednesday at the Lake County Court Tower in Waukegan. | Photo: Joe Shuman/J. Shuman Photography (2022)

Also in attendance for the press conference were Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg, North Chicago Police Chief Laz Perez, FBI Chicago Deputy Special Agent in Charge Douglas Goodwater, and Richard Fitzgerald, who is the Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Office for Homeland Security Investigations.

The state’s attorney’s office said they have named Assistant State’s Attorney Kyle Dole as the lead task force prosecutor and are in the process of interviewing for a critical investigator position.

Several assistant state attorneys and an additional investigator will bolster the work of the task force.

The task force will also provide funding for a coordinator, who will double as a victim support outreach specialist and work jointly with the state’s attorney’s office and A Safe Place to educate the police and the public about the signs of trafficking.

[Suggested Article]  Man in his 20s hospitalized after being shot while standing on sidewalk in Waukegan

The effort to secure the grant was reinforced with letters of support from Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Congressman Brad Schneider, State Senator Melinda Bush and Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg.

“Survivors of human trafficking need our support as they rebuild their lives, and perpetrators of human trafficking should be punished to the full extent of the law,” Schneider said.

The grant was formally incorporated into Lake County’s budget structure through a county board resolution that was unanimously adopted on February 8.

“These federal dollars that our team earned will make Lake County safer now, and years into the future,” Rinehart said.

Anyone concerned about a potential human trafficking situation can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or text “BeFree” to 233733.