COOK COUNTY, IL – Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart will be honored this week with significant awards from national advocacy organizations in recognition of his leadership in combatting sex trafficking and for exposing the shameful criminalization of mental illness in America.
On Nov. 12, Sheriff Dart will travel to Washington D.C. to receive the Pathbreaker Award from Shared Hope International for his revolutionary efforts to tackle the child sex trafficking industry through a campaign of advocacy and education illustrating the use of the online classified giant, Backpage.com, to promote this industry. Backpage.com has been at the center of national advocacy efforts for years, with thousands calling for the site to shut down its adult entertainment section. According to Shared Hope International, 495 victims of child sex trafficking have been linked to Backpage.com. In July 2015, Sheriff Dart asked the top credit card companies, Visa and MasterCard, to join him in his fight against child sex trafficking by removing their cards as payment options for escort ads on Backpage.com. Within days, both credit cards were no longer available for use on Backpage.
Shared Hope International was established in 1998, by former U.S. Congresswoman Linda Smith, to prevent, restore, and bring justice to women and children in crisis. They provide leadership in awareness, training, prevention strategies, restorative care, research, and policy initiatives. In 2000, the U.S. Department of State engaged Shared Hope International to hold Pathbreaking Strategies Conferences in six countries to energize the global conversation and share innovative approaches to combat trafficking. During this process, the Pathbreaker Award was established to recognize the pioneering efforts of individuals throughout the world who broke the trend of inaction and initiated proactive responses to prevent trafficking.
On Nov. 13, Sheriff Dart will head to Albany, N.Y. to receive the Criminal Justice Visionary Award from the New York affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The Sheriff emerged as a national advocate on behalf of the mentally ill as Cook County Jail evolved into the nation’s largest mental health institution following devastating cuts to Illinois and Chicago mental health services. He turned his advocacy into action, opening clinics of his own in addition to establishing comprehensive mental health discharge planning, launching mental health hotline for ex-individuals in custody with mental illness, and requiring advanced mental health training for all Cook County correctional officers and police officers. In August 2014, he opened a first of its kind Mental Health Transition Center in Cook County Jail, providing comprehensive mental health treatment, job skills training and family support for mentally ill individuals in custody.