Human Trafficking in Wisconsin - It's happening here

Friday, January 22, 2016

My visit to the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee recently coincided with January as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The multi-disciplinary team of professionals at Sojourner are doing remarkable work to address violence in the community, including violence connected to human trafficking.

 

Human trafficking is an insidious crime that isolates victims and exploits them for profit. It is happening right here in Wisconsin, in small and large cities, towns and villages, both urban and suburban - places that you might not expect.  In a 2013 Department of Justice assessment, law enforcement in nearly every county in the state reported that human trafficking occurs in their community.  One form of trafficking, sex trafficking, is affecting hundreds of adults and children each and every year in Wisconsin.

 

The cases are heartbreaking. Just last month, Wisconsin Department of Justice-Division of Criminal Investigation agents rescued a 15-year-old girl from dangerous and abusive living conditions created by a sex trafficker. Undercover officers found her information posted on an internet site under “escort.” She had been reported missing since late October. Sadly, it is one of too many stories. Every time we get a glimpse of this crime, we are alarmed by what we see. We ask ourselves, “How can this be happening?”

 

To the hard working men and women in law enforcement agencies, non-profit organizations, and social services agencies dedicated to ending this terrible crime: Thank you for your persistence and know that the Wisconsin Department of Justice is committed to being your partner.

 

Through our Crime Victims Council, we have assembled a team of police officers, prosecutors, social workers, educators, crime victim service providers, legal professionals and community groups, to stamp out human trafficking in Wisconsin. These professionals, in addition to aggregating existing resources for victims of human trafficking, are advocating for and building coalitions to provide additional services needed by the victims.

 

Additionally, I recently teamed up with Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson to create the Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, composed of senior leaders from public and private organizations committed to serving the victims of this horrific crime. The Task Force will work to coordinate prevention, training, data collection and service delivery efforts through coordination and collaboration with existing local and regional human trafficking workgroups and task forces. Our goals include being able to offer additional support to existing efforts, increasing public awareness of the issue, creating consistent statewide practices and expanding both residential and community based services throughout Wisconsin.

 

To the victims:  We want you to know we care and we are working diligently to rescue you and to make sure there are services that can help you stay safe and rebuild your lives.

 

Our Division of Criminal Investigation at Wisconsin DOJ  has three agent positions, located in Madison, Milwaukee and Appleton, provided through a past budget initiative that are specifically dedicated to child sex trafficking investigations. Our Wisconsin Statewide Information Center (WSIC) also provides a great deal of research and support for these cases.

 

And to all the Johns, those who are creating the demand for this modern day slavery:  We’re coming for you. Right now, law enforcement in all corners of the state are being trained to identify, investigate and prosecute human trafficking. The only reason human trafficking exists is that there is a demand for buying sex. Without this demand, there would be no reason for traffickers to exploit victims in this way.

 

There is so much we know we need to do to prevent the spread of this scourge and to turn victims into survivors.

 

For more information on human trafficking, see the Wisconsin Department of Justice website section on Human Trafficking: https://www.doj.state.wi.us/ocvs/human-trafficking