Human trafficking cases rise in Wisconsin, U.S.

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

New data show a 17 percent increase in the number of human trafficking cases handled in Wisconsin in 2015 and an increase of 24 percent nationwide.

Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery, released data earlier in February from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and the BeFree Textline. The organization’s numbers do not represent the full scope of the problem, but rather the incoming calls for help.

There were 50 cases of human trafficking reported to the hotline from Wisconsin in 2015, including 45 cases of sex trafficking and three cases of labor trafficking.

In 2014, Polaris reported 43 cases of human trafficking from Wisconsin.

Since 2007, the organization has received reports of 205 cases in the state.

Nationwide, the increase in the number of cases was larger — 24 percent from 2014 to 2015 and an increase of 519 percent since 2008.

There were 5,973 cases of human trafficking reported to the hotline and the BeFree textline in 2015. Most of these cases involved reports of sex trafficking and about 30 percent of the survivors or victims were identified as U.S. citizens.

“From the domestic servant forced to work for little pay who required emergency shelter to the young girl made to sell sex online against her will who texted us for crisis support, survivors of human trafficking are reaching out to the national hotline more than ever,” said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris. 

Also, recent research by Northeastern University funded by the National Institute of Justice found that posting the number to the hotline in public areas is one of the most effective ways to increase the number of human trafficking arrests. The hotline has collected more than 6,500 tips since 2007.

Myles said, “More survivors calling the national hotline means more women, children and men are being connected to life-changing support through the incredible work of more than 3,000 service-provider partners across the country.”

In Wisconsin, those partners — prosecutors, police officers, social workers, educators, victims advocates, lawyers and other professionals — have begun meeting as a task force to address eradicating modern-day slavery. The task force consists of 37 members representing public and private agencies and is co-chaired by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson.

At the task force’s first meeting in late 2015, the attorney general’s office shared the case of a 15-year-old girl rescued from sex-traffickers by Department of Justice agents. Undercover officers found information for the girl, missing from her home for months, posted on an Internet site under “escort.” 

“We challenged everyone in the room to make this a true working group — one that works to improve training, law enforcement, prevention, awareness, advocacy, resources for victims seeking help, sensible legislation, counseling and other direct services to survivors, housing for survivors and aftercare,” Schimel said after the meeting.

Task force members emphasized their work on this issue requires putting aside partisanship and politics.

“We have an amazing multi-disciplinary group from all across the state,” Schimel stated. “If anyone can accomplish something, it is this group.”

A month after the task force’s first meeting, legislators introduced SB 618, legislation intended to make certain that child victims of human trafficking can access services. Through a loophole in the law, child victims of human trafficking are not automatically eligible for services made available to victims of child abuse. 

The measure also would require the reporting of suspected abuse — child prostitution and sex-trafficking — to a law enforcement or social services agency, possibly leading to earlier intervention in cases.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing on the measure on Feb. 1.

On the line

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Reach the Polaris BeFree textline at 233733.

Recognition in Racine

Karri Hemmig on Feb. 2 received the first “Unsung Hero Award” from Racine Mayor John Dickert for her work with the Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “I don’t know that people realize that for years, Karri worked without a salary to make sure the lives of our women and men, boys and girls who have become victims of human trafficking are rescued from a perilous future,” Dickert said.
— L.N.