NBC15 Investigates: Human Trafficking

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) There are so many people buying sex services in Madison, Wis., the Madison Police Department plans to add a new position to the victims unit to specialize in human trafficking by Summer 2019.

Victims of sex trafficking take a huge risk when sharing their stories, in fear their trafficker may retaliate if not behind bars. To protect her and to minimize risk to her long-term, NBC15 agreed to identify the victim only as McKenzie.

McKenzie shared story of her life in human trafficking and how she survived only with NBC15.

McKenzie said she started partying at a young age. She smoked at a young age and did cocaine and alcohol during her teenage years. She said she did pain pills shortly after, and was doing heroin by 18 years old.

"Drugs for me specifically is a major part of all of this happened to me," McKenzie said.

Desperate to find drugs, one day, she came across someone who would take advantage of her addiction.

"We were in a Walgreens parking lot in Madison, and they [traffickers] seen us sitting there," McKenzie said. "At the time, we were looking for drugs. You could smell it all over us, they knew it."

At 19 years old, McKenzie met her trafficker in Madison.

"My trafficker, [was] also my drug dealer," McKenzie said.

Partying led to manipulation, and before she knew it, life was out of her control.

"Did you know that your trafficker was trafficking you?" NBC15's Investigative Reporter Hannah Anderson asked McKenzie. "No. No...no," McKenzie said.

"Then all of the sudden, I'm giving him all of my money," McKenzie said. "All I have from it, is a pack of cigarettes and a shot to stay well."

Her trafficker knew where she was at all times.

"He had full control over the price, and what they [The Johns] were being told," McKenzie said, "what I would offer, he was the one in charge of what I was willing to do with them."

McKenzie said "johns" or people willing to buy sex, would pay anywhere from $100-500 per interaction.

"It's the guy sitting next to you in church. It's your husband. It's your mailman. It's your local neighborhood police officer," McKenzie said. "I've seen guys like that, and it's also guys you expect it to be, the gross guy in the corner."

Some days she would meet one man, some days it was up to five, according to McKenzie.

"I've had 'Johns' be like, 'hurry up before my wife and kids get home,'" McKenzie said.

Detective Roger Baker has worked for the Madison Police Department for 29 years. For the last ten, he focused on human trafficking and high-risk missing children, both topics closely related.

"It's one of the most financially lucrative criminal enterprises that's operating in the united states at this time," Baker said.

Baker monitors the market with tools to track down traffickers and help victims. He said traffickers may use force, threats, coercion to control their victims.

"It can be anything from threats to kill their family. It can include physical violence, sexual violence, acts of torture, withholding access to food and water," Baker said.

He said because there is so much fear, it's frightening for victim to report.

Another part of the crime is the high demand for sex acts. Baker said some traffickers sell victims to 'Johns' 10-12 times a day.

"It's easier for 'johns' to do this. It's more anonymous, they don't have to show themselves on their street," Baker said. "They can sit in the privacy of their own home."

In one quick check online on a random Monday, Baker counted 300 postings selling victims for sex services in the Madison area.

"The trafficker has low overhead cost. The trafficker takes the victim, he or she can sell the victim 10-12 times a day, sometimes more, day after day, and keep selling that victim and taking their money, if they have more than one victim," Baker said.

Along with the digital age changing the way sex acts are bought, Madison Police are changing the way they approach some former prostitution cases, now as human trafficking.

"The sea change we're looking at, [includes] in the past, there's always been trafficking, there have always been pimps exploiting women and sometimes men on the street," Baker said.

However, one difference comes when the profit doesn't go to the victim, and instead goes to the trafficker, or in the past, known as a pimp. Also, someone who is a victim of human trafficking is being controlled and manipulated either psychologically or physically to do acts.

Sex trafficking involves the sale of humans for sex, according to the advocatesforhumanrights.org.

Human trafficking can range from psychological manipulation to physically restraining someone against their will and everything in between.

"If someone is being forced to do something that is destroying their spirit and self-esteem and damaging their life, we don't want to re-victimize them," Baker said.

Another change, includes the grooming work that happens digitally. Baker said it's easier than ever for traffickers to connect with young people through apps, games and websites.

"The youngest victims I’ve worked with, typically juveniles missing from home, where they're most vulnerable," Baker said, "I've seen it as early as 14-15 [years old]."

"These girls are innocent vulnerable people who just need help," McKenzie said.

McKenzie got help after police arrested her trafficker, and connected her with Jan Miyasaki at Project Respect.

"This is going on here," Miyasaki said.

Just last year, Project Respect helped 112 people get out of trafficking in the Madison area.

"Of that 112, it's just the tip of the iceberg," Miyasaki said.

"It's very hard to admit this is going on in your life," McKenzie said. "I know when I first got out, it took a long time before I could even acknowledge he trafficked me. It's not easy."

Life is different now for McKenzie, she said she's clean and knows her trafficker is in prison.

"I do worry about the day these guys get out of prison, that they'll find me, but I have time," McKenzie said.

Time, that belongs to her, no longer owned by her trafficker.

However, trafficking is still the life for many women in Madison.

"Like I said, a lot of people don't make it out, and that's a real reality I have to face," McKenzie said.

McKenzie said she hopes women and men impacted by human trafficking hear her story.

"I didn't even know, I didn't even know what it meant to be trafficked until it happened to me, which is why it's so important to raise awareness," McKenzie said.

Anyone who is a victim of sex trafficking is urged to call Jan at Project Respect at 608-283-6435 ext. 14.

There's also an event, "Sex Trafficking in Madison: What you need to know," 7-10 p.m., Feb. 21, at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church (401 S. Owen Drive, Madison, Wis.). There will be a panel including: Det. Roger Baker, Madison Police Department, Tyler Schueffner, Briarpatch Youth Services, teen trafficking and support, Tracy Scheffler, 5-Stones, vulnerabilities traffickers look for and their techniques and McKenzie, Project Respect Advocate and survivor.

The event is open to the public. Contact Vicky Franchino at vkfranchino@gmail.com or debra.schroeder@qopc.org for more information.

National Human Trafficking hotline: 1-888-373-788 or text 233733.
There are several links to the right of this story with more resources on human trafficking.