VIDEO REPORT: Human Trafficking in Wisconsin

By: Britni McDonald Email
By: Britni McDonald Email

Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 --- 12:05 a.m.

27 million people are enslaved into human trafficking around the world. It brings in $32 billion, making it the second largest criminal enterprise. And it's a problem that could be found right here in Madison.

A woman we call "Jane" because she didn't want to be identified says she started trading sex for a place to stay and food to eat when she was only 10-years-old. Jane says she was sexually abused by a neighbor at eight-years-old, bullied at school, and ignored by her parents, so she ran away from home.

"I really didn't want to go home, so I just did what I felt like I had to do to stay away from that."

National statistics show 30% of kids who run away will be trafficked withing 48 hours.

JoAnn Gruber-Hagen with Dane County's Human Trafficking Awareness Coalition, Slave Free Madison, works with trafficking survivors. She said, "Most of them say, 'I can't stay here anymore; it's absolutely intolerable; I've got to go. So where do I go?' Well, she goes to the streets."

"Jane" told NBC15 she spent many nights in apartment basements and had sex with numerous partners, but she said she finally felt accepted.

"I just really didn't feel like I belonged anywhere, and the people downtown at least made me feel like I was acceptable. They accepted me for who I was."

This continued for years. When she turned 16, "Jane" responded to a modeling ad, which turned out to be another avenue for trafficking. "Jane" then responded to another ad for a magazine soliciting job in Minnesota, but didn't even make it past Chicago. She was approached by a pimp right as she stepped off the train.

"Jane" was sexually exploited for 17 years of her life. Now, at 29-years old-now, she's finally coming to terms with her past of sex trafficking. She now has her GED, two boys, and a legitimate job.

But, according to Slave Free Wisconsin, "Jane" is only one of over 200 trafficking victims in Wisconsin. There have been only 24 cases in Dane County since 2009, four prosecuted under federal law, and two under state law.

Gruber-Hagen said, "Judges don't understand the issue. Juries don't understand the issue."

It's a hidden crime with a lack of understanding, statistics, and convictions. But with recent statewide response, anti-trafficking advocates are hopeful.

"It won't take 30 years, perhaps, to recognize that this is a problem here locally and to do something about it," said Gruber-Hagen.

Wisconsin's Department of Criminal Investigation examines trafficking cases, particularly those advertised or arranged online. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen hopes Governor Scott Walker will agree to ask for more staff in his budget set to be revealed later this month.

"Unfortunately we have the work for those five new agents and analysts," said Van Hollen. "Fewer people who are inclined to be pedophiles, who are inclined to abuse other individuals, were willing to put themselves at risk by going out on the street corner or standing outside a a schoolyard. Now they feel like they can hide behind the safety of their own computers."

Van Hollen says he want more staff so the department can be more proactive, seeking out predators and even impersonating minors so they can catch suspects before they strike.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact Project Respect at 608-283-6435.

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