Wisconsin DOJ finds inconsistencies in human trafficking reports

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Newly-released data from the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) shows that law enforcement agencies across the state have been inconsistent when it comes to reporting sex trafficking crimes.

NBC 15 sits down with Wisconsin Attorney General to discuss the findings of the 2019 Law Enforcement Assessment of Sex Trafficking in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul told NBC 15 that inconsistency can happen for a few different reasons, including investigations into whether or not someone is a victim of a human trafficking crime.

"A prostitution case is someone of their own free will, deciding to engage in commercial sexual activity,” Kaul said, “but in a lot of cases, people who are engaged in that activity are doing it based off of a lot of forced fraud and coercion."

Distinguishing that difference is one of the factors Kaul said officers need to understand state-wide.

Another factor is the person’s age.

"If someone is involved in commercial sexual activity is a minor, they are by definition the victim of a crime, that's illegal, but under Wisconsin law, minors can be charged for the crime of prostitution," Kaul said.

The DOJ’s 2019 assessment outlines that between 2014 and 2018, 24 agencies in 16 counties reported arrests of juveniles for prostitution, and no human trafficking incidents during the same time frame.

"A lot of times our young people aren't willing to disclose, or talk too much about it, it's only after we have a significant relationship built with them, that it'll come out,” Briarpatch Street Outreach Coordinator Tyler Schueffner said.

Schueffner works with many kids and teens impacted by child sex trafficking.

"When you look at legislation of human trafficking from the federal level, they don't have to prove coercion or any of these other things, as long as a child is involved and adult is involved in that exploitation, it's irrelevant, because they're a child."

However, Kaul said there is pending legislation for a "Safe Harbor" law.

"That would get rid of that inconsistency and would clarify that if you're a minor you are a victim and not someone committing a crime,” Kaul said.

Kaul also added he'll take steps with law enforcement agencies to improve training opportunities for how to pinpoint human trafficking.

"It can be difficult for law enforcement to identify trafficking,” Kaul said, “So doing long-term investigations in some cases, it takes a lot of resources, but it also can help us get to the root of this problem."