Panel at UW-Whitewater raises awareness for human trafficking

JANESVILLE, Wis. (WMTV) -- The Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force discussed warning signs, awareness, and experiences of human trafficking at a panel at UW-Whitewater Monday night.

The panel featured six task force members as well as a local survivor of human trafficking, and a presentation. The task force is made up of community members and groups, ranging from school faculty to law enforcement and many more, across Rock County.

"The objective is to keep our youth safe from sex trafficking, and that is all ages. Not just high school age or middle school age, but also our elementary youth," said Carrie Wyatt, a Spanish teacher at Craig High School in Janesville, and the Vice Chair of the executive committee of the Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. "We have so many vulnerabilities in our society today for our youth who have some kind of need, whether it's emotional, physical, food, clothing, shelter, things that make them vulnerable to predators."

Another thing that makes youth vulnerable to predators - social media.

"That oftentimes begins online, through social media, apps, games that kids play. The predators know where to go because they go where the kids go, and then they hide their true identity, develop friendships with our youth," Wyatt said. "We need to do things to help our parents know what to look for, help our youth know where to go."

Genevieve Church, a student at Craig High School, said that in her experience, being contacted by strangers on social media is becoming more and more common.

"I definitely look out for those creepy texts and Snapchats from people, they'll send me unsolicited pictures," she said. "If I get a Snapchat from someone I don't know, I instantly delete it, I will not open it. Because I don't know what it is."

Church is the president of the Human Relations Club at Craig High School. Church said the club focuses on inclusivity and community building at the school, and hosts discussions and viewings on topics like trafficking and domestic violence.

In addition to social media, Wyatt said location is another factor to consider for Rock County.

"We are on that corridor, that triangle," she said. "We have so much commercial industry with our interstate systems that go right through here, and it's easy access on and off the highway, easy to make contacts and then meet up at certain places."

The Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force is working to combat these risks.

"We do a lot of prevention awareness and intervention training," she said. Wyatt said they've trained over 1,300 people in Rock County. Since last February, Wyatt said they've trained nearly 400 staff members in the Janesville school district.

"The more we can make it uncomfortable for our traffickers to be here, that's what we want to do."