A suburban family facing a heartbreaking struggle says they quickly learned how dangerous the world of sex trafficking can be.
Now, they’re warning other families that situations like the one they faced could hit closer to home than many may expect.
Plainfield mom Danyell never thought she’d know anything about sex trafficking, but one day in September she came face to face with it. Her 20-year-old daughter, Alyssa, left home and said she wasn’t coming back.
Alyssa had just had a baby in June and was suffering from post-partum depression, so Danyell was instantly worried.
“She left her two kids here,” Danyell said. “I mean she just doesn’t do that.”
Danyell later learned her daughter had been lured to Philadelphia by an alleged trafficker, who had been communicating with the young woman for months.
“He had groomed her quite well,” Danyell said.
Alyssa returned home, only to go back to Philadelphia again. But this time, she couldn’t leave.
“He preyed on her fear of him harming her children,” Danyell said.
That’s a common tactic, according to Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Lou Longhitano, who heads human trafficking prosecutions in Cook County. Longhitano says victims first are recruited, then seduced and then reality sets in.
“When they try to leave,” Longhitano said, “all kinds of different force and coercion is thrown at them.”
Longhitano isn’t involved with Alyssa’s case but has handled cases like hers since 2010. He says the idea that trafficking happens only in the inner city is a fallacy.
Of the 129 cases he’s prosecuted, roughly half have some connection to the suburbs.
From Naperville to Lombard to Joliet to Oakbrook, he says there is no place safe. Victims are lured from the suburbs and trafficking happens in the suburbs.
“There’s demand there,” Longhitano said. “People want to buy sex and they don’t want to have to drive all the way to Chicago.”
Danyell found out her daughter’s alleged trafficker's name and realized what danger she was in. He had a previous conviction on federal prostitution charges.
“If he’s done it once, I’m sure he’s still doing it,” she said.
So Danyell went to work, constantly calling law enforcement, insisting her daughter was with the alleged trafficker against her will. He let her go in October after roughly three weeks.
Alyssa is now back with family and safe. Danyell is committed to telling their story as a warning.
“I would never have thought this would happen in our home,” she said. “That doesn’t happen to us. But, it does.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: NBC Chicago is only identifying the victims by first name for safety concerns.