Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:11:45 AM CST

Top Stories

Nicole Blanchard/MEDILL

The Dreamcatcher Foundation is one organization committed to combating human trafficking by rescuing girls from the street. Their efforts are part of a larger movement that is split between education and survivor resources.

Anti-trafficking activists torn between educating public, protecting survivors

by Nicole Blanchard
Jun 10, 2014

Trafficking survivor pays it forward

Fifteen-year-old Amanda Jagade woke up from a drug-induced blackout in a bare room in Harvey, Ill. The chain around her ankle, keeping her tethered to the center of the room, also kept her at the mercy of her captor. After running away from home weeks before, she had met up with a former classmate who promised her a place to stay free of supervision and rules. Jagade went along, not realizing she was about to be trapped for around six months (the drugs made her recollection hazy) and forced into prostitution.

She fought the pimp regularly, biting, clawing and attempting to gouge his eyes with nails pulled from the walls.

“I knew that they were going to kill me if I kept fighting with them like that because he had told me a million times, I’m going to kill you,” Jagade, now 26, said.

When the opportunity came for Jagade to escape — her captor wanted a white girl on the street — she stopped fighting, obeying orders until she was sent out into Harvey with one of the pimp’s men and told to stand on a street corner, bringing cash to the nearby car after each transaction. When the man drove into an alleyway to turn around, Jagade took off.

“I don’t know how long I ran for. I got to a park, it was dark out and I laid in the bushes until daylight because I figured I’d have a better chance of getting away,” she said.

Ten years have passed since the day Jagade escaped, and for the past six years she has worked with the West Side-based Dreamcatcher Foundation, a nonprofit that provides resources to sex trafficking survivors and preventive education to at-risk girls. Today the problem persists, and anti-human-trafficking organizations in Chicago disagree over whether action or activism should be the top priority.

Jagade said both could have made a difference in her experience.

“I tell the girls, if you have a funny feeling or a gut feeling, get on the phone with 911,” she said. “They have a better chance of recognizing the situation and getting themselves out of the situation.”

Jagade said at 15, her own gut instincts weren’t enough to prevent her abuse. What’s more, the absence of resources at the time meant she went without survivor-specific counseling or other resources until she joined up with the Dreamcatcher Foundation. That’s why she works to make sure both options are available in Chicago, she said.

“If we do have awareness and nowhere for them to go, we just have awareness,” Jagade said. “But if we have the awareness and then the housing, it’s 50/50.

Though Jagade has been back to Harvey since her abduction, she’s unable to recognize the house where she was kept and doesn’t know what became of her abusers or the other girls they captured. But she said her work with the Dreamcatcher Foundation has given her back what the abuse stole, piece by piece.

“Tragedy will make you do a lot of things,” she said. “I made it out to make sure others can get out of it as well. If you survived that, what can’t you survive?”

In a warehouse on Kingsbury Street, a group of about 20 people sits around a rectangle of tables, littered with advertising campaigns, brochures and business cards. Streaks of sun from angled skylights call attention to massive photos on the southwest wall. The images, in black and white, show the solemn faces of victims of human trafficking, the global issue that today’s roundtable of experts has come together to discuss and fight. That is, once they’ve finished fighting one another.

“This is an issue of awareness,” says one participant. “We need to address the pimp-glorifying culture and make sure people know this is going on right here in Chicago.”

“I know that’s important but I don’t think that’s the task,” interjects another woman, the organizer of an arts and education program for sex trafficking survivors. “How are we going to get the survivors involved in this conversation? 

The table of activists is facing an impasse that may sound familiar to many. Human trafficking is an issue that is largely hidden, and survivors are in need of resources to ensure safety. While ideally Chicago activists operate under the idea of unity between awareness and action, it’s a notion that hides the fragmented nature of the movement, where organizations are torn between educating the public and protecting survivors.

In May, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services teamed up with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, the FBI and Cook County prosecutors to unveil “Our Children Are Not For Sale,” an awareness campaign aimed at showing Illinoisans the true nature of human trafficking and its existence all over the state.

“I think people are shocked, and even when you say that it’s happening here they’re like, ‘Oh, you mean Eastern European girls are being brought here,’” said Karen Hawkins, spokeswoman for DCFS. “Like, no, these are girls from the suburbs, these are girls from Chicago, Joliet, Aurora.”

Hawkins said part of the struggle in combatting trafficking is the fact that so few people realize the issue persists in Chicago. She said awareness campaigns are an integral part of beginning the process toward action and rescuing victims of trafficking, and it’s a role more suited for DCFS.

“As a state agency, our role is partially prevention. For us this is a more appropriate fit in terms of raising awareness,” Hawkins said.

But for other activists in the fight against human trafficking, poster campaigns and prevention pale in comparison to needs such as rehabilitation, counseling and long-term safe houses. Currently, the only designated housing for survivors is limited to sex trafficking and consists of only 10 beds at Anne’s House, a Salvation Army-affiliated organization whose location is undisclosed to protect the clients.


A just-passed Illinois bill is expected to raise funds for additional beds, as well as counseling and other survivor services, according to State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) who introduced the legislation. A portion of fines from sex trafficking charges and seized assets will go toward the Specialized Services for Survivors of Human Trafficking Fund.

“Right now we have to amass as many tools as we can to get to the crux of this issue,” Hutchinson said.

“Chicago needs to wake up,” said Tye Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher and artist who partners with the Dreamcatcher Foundation to provide resources to survivors. “Ten beds? We should be embarrassed as a city.”

The Dreamcatcher Foundation is a survivor-run organization that focuses primarily on the need for safe housing in Chicago. While education factors into their programs, Stephanie Daniels-Wilson, founder and CEO, said the nonprofit’s priority is fundraising to create a drop-in crisis center, which would offer survivors a safe place to stay and take part in other Dreamcatcher programs, like peer counseling.

“We need a facility where we can have a crisis center to service these ladies 24/7,” said Daniels-Wilson. “Because most places are only open 8 to 5. Last time I checked, crisis didn’t make an appointment.”

The divide has led to some fragmentation on an issue that is largely misunderstood.

“The entire reason we started a nonprofit and the No. 1 need was emergency housing,” said Executive Director Laura Ng. “It makes sense to move forward with the drop-in center.”

With organizations moving in separate directions, Zarana Patel,
Dreamcatcher Foundation communications leader, said the solution could be an umbrella organization. She added that ideally it would focus on cohesion, tracking individual group efforts and statistics in order to coordinate efforts between action and awareness.

“Those two can’t be prioritized in terms of one another,” Patel said.
Back on Kingsbury Street, activists at the roundtable still struggle to choose what’s most important: an email campaign or long-term housing? Addressing sex trafficking alone or all human trafficking?

“I get frustrated that the conversation focuses on sex trafficking,” Ng said, “because I feel like when you tell people we all play a part in labor trafficking, that means we may have to give up Starbucks or Trader Joe’s, for at least a time, until their policies change.”

Across the table, one woman fiddles awkwardly with a Starbucks cup.