(CHICAGO, IL) – For young people who’ve been abused and traumatized, Lourdes Nieto gives them hope. At a safe house in Chicago for young girls and teens, the Chicago police officer is working to stop human trafficking in the community.
“It’s never been about what they’ve been through – if they want to share, that’s their process,” she said. “Recovery shouldn’t be reliving their story over and over again.”
Many of the stories are the same for the young people she helps, who were sold into prostitution and pornography by people they trusted. The commonalities they share are vulnerability, neglect and low self-esteem. Police and law enforcement officers are some of the last people they trust, but Lourdes has been able to break down those barriers.
“They’re used to people exploiting them, pimped out by boyfriends, gang members, teachers, even their own family members – people who were supposed to protect them and then sell them for sex in exchange for drugs or money,” she said. “Their trust was at zero, but you can rebuild it when they see that you care.”
A 12-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, Lourdes joined the force in 2003, patrolling the Grand Crossing neighborhood on the city’s South Side. She responded to robberies and homicides, but it was the girls on the street and those who were recovered in raids that opened her heart to stop human trafficking.
Lourdes brings her own 16-year-old daughter on safe house visits to cook meals and interact with girls whose lives took a drastically different turn. She wants her daughter to see it’s a tough world but also a compassionate one. She teaches anti-trafficking courses at the Pilsen library and hopes to bring more awareness and training to schools, as well as to her fellow police officers. She also wants others in the community to speak up.
“If you see something that doesn’t seem right, say something,” she said. “Call us at the Chicago Police Department, so victims don’t fall through the cracks and they are not forgotten.”
The Law Enforcement Award is presented by Motorola Solutions Foundation to a professional police officer(s) or related law enforcement official(s) who exhibited heroism either in response to an emergency situation or through an ongoing commitment to the community.
The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is honoring local people who demonstrated acts of heroism in the community at the organization’s 14th annual Heroes Breakfast, Thursday, April 28 at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. For more information: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/local/il/chicago/American-Red-Cross-Honors-Local-Heroes.
Written by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois