Human Trafficking in Our Communities
In school, we learned that slavery was abolished in 1865. Sadly, there are still individuals in our society today being forced to do things against their will by other people. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Designating a month to focus on an issue like human trafficking creates an awareness of the problem and a chance to educate. By knowing the signs, you can also help prevent human trafficking.
Human trafficking happens when the trafficker controls a victim with force, fraud, or coercion to make them do things against their will. Typically, traffickers use victims to perform sexual acts for money or to work against their will with little or no pay. Forcing someone into slavery allows the trafficker to reap the financial rewards of the victim’s abuse and labor.
Evidence of human trafficking might be hard to notice right away, but there are many signs. A few examples include visible injuries, mental health changes, distrust for authorities, uncertainty about their home or work address, unstable finances, dependence on a person to make decisions for them, or a lack of identification documents. Traffickers take full control of a person’s life: their finances, their housing, the clothes they might wear or the food they eat. Victims rarely go to the authorities because their trafficker has used verbal abuse, physical abuse, threats and misinformation to persuade them otherwise. Not every sign mentioned here means that a person is a victim of human trafficking. However, knowing what to look for and noticing patterns could make all the difference for a victim of human trafficking.
Trafficking knows no borders, which is why everyone needs to be aware and know the signs. According to the Federal Department of Defense, 4.5 million people worldwide are victims of sex trafficking and 21 million people are forced to complete labor. Together, these trafficking practices bring in about $150 billion per year. Sex trafficking is present in our state and, if you have been following the local news, you may have noticed that it is in our communities as well. In 2017, there were 47 human trafficking cases reported in Wisconsin according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
To tackle the issue in our state, many agencies, law enforcement, public officials and the Legislature are working together on solutions. Fierce Freedom, which is a local organization that is focused on educating people about human trafficking, supported a resolution that the City of Eau Claire passed to designate January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Wisconsin Department of Justice recently formed the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force to study and investigate instances of trafficking.
In the Legislature, there are several proposals to help in the fight against human trafficking. Senate Bill 344, which I am a cosponsor of, would not allow a minor to be charged with prostitution. Minors who are under the age of 18 cannot give consent for sex. When minors are involved with prostitution, it is usually against their will. However, the current practice of charging a minor with a misdemeanor for prostitution prevents many victims from coming forward and sharing who the true perpetrator is, which allows the perpetrator to continue human trafficking and the victims do not get the help they truly need.
Senate Bill 541 allows the Department of Justice to issue administrative subpoenas to hotels for human trafficking crimes. An administrative subpoena allows the DOJ to see electronic communications in their investigation of a crime. To avoid leaving a large footprint, human trafficking often occurs in hotels where the reason for a room rental can be hard to discern and witnesses might not realize what is going on. These are just a few of the solutions that my colleagues and I have been looking at to fix this problem.
A month dedicated to education about human trafficking will not completely end the practice, but it only takes one person to notice the signs and alert the police to get a victim help. My colleagues and I will continue to work on new proposals and, with all of our efforts combined, I hope that one day we can end human trafficking and keep our citizens safe.
If you have noticed suspicious activity or if any of the signs sound familiar to you, please call your local authorities as soon as possible. If you would like to learn more about human trafficking, please go to the links below to see the many resources that the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Fierce Freedom provide on the subject.