January is Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention month and while this issue can seem abstract and far away, trafficking happens here. I am cosponsoring a Joint Resolution to acknowledge the threat of human trafficking and make it clear that Wisconsin has zero tolerance for this modern-day slavery. We are committed to eliminating trafficking and ensuring liberty for all.
Human trafficking has been reported in all 72 counties of our state in rural, urban, tribal, and suburban communities. In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 388 contacts and confirmed 134 cases and since 2007, over 667 people have been victims in Wisconsin. Around one third of victims in Wisconsin have been minors.
It is even estimated that incidents of trafficking are underreported because the warning signs are not always clear. Human trafficking in the real world doesn’t look the same as it appears in Hollywood productions which can make it difficult to report, identify, and prosecute. In many instances, cases of trafficking have been misidentified as prostitution, but thankfully data reporting practices for sex trafficking are changing and attitudes are shifting.
Those being trafficked are the most vulnerable members of our communities like children in foster care, youth of color, children with disabilities, homeless minors. Many trafficking situations begin with an intimate partner or perceived romantic relationship that the trafficker then exploits. Minors in need of financial support or housing are particularly vulnerable to being coerced into a trafficking situation.
Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families is spreading awareness and encouraging the public to look for signs in minors that may be at risk of being trafficked. Behavioral indicators include:
- A minor hanging out with a new group of people and exhibiting a significant change in behavior or an increased presence online
- A minor uncertain answering questions about age or identity and looks to others around them to answer instead
- A minor with an appearance that doesn’t match what you know about that child. They may even have a tattoo that they are reluctant or unable to explain.
- A minor with multiple cells phones, no ID, or an ID being held and controlled by another person
- A minor with an older significant other that is controlling or seems abusive
With greater awareness, Wisconsinites can shine a light on trafficking to free more survivors, prosecute more traffickers, and prevent human trafficking in our communities.