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Human Trafficking On The Rise Amid Pandemic

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Danielle Romain Dagenhardt says the way traffickers are exploiting their victims has changed to become more advanced.

The pandemic dramatically changed so many parts of our lives and our communities. In Milwaukee and cities around the world, we’ve seen a rise in human trafficking due, in part, to the instability the pandemic caused.

Danielle Romain Dagenhardt, who has a doctorate in urban studies and is an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at UW-Milwaukee, has been researching the rise in human trafficking and how new methods are being used in the U.S. and Milwaukee.

Romain Dagenhard says the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic could be one reason it's on the rise. "Human trafficking, regardless of where it occurs, is largely anticipated by poverty," she explains. "And when you have a shutdown, and in many cases people's employment that kept them at the threshold of the poverty line suddenly ends, ... it kind of propels people into kind of survival mode and doing things that they normally wouldn't see themselves doing just to be able to get by day to day and survive."

In Milwaukee, the increase has been specifically in sex trafficking as opposed to labor trafficking. Romain Dagenhardt says that increase includes children as well as adults.

She also says the way traffickers are exploiting their victims has changed to become more advanced. Traffickers are using social media and apps to advertise work or ways to earn fast cash that end up being trafficking situations.

"And because of the move towards the digital, ... it is harder to detect especially on ... social media platforms that are more anonymous and harder to trace, " she explains.

Romain Dagenhardt says the increase in human trafficking will likely be exacerbated when government programs that have been helping sustain people through the pandemic run out.

"I would see maybe an even sharper uptick as like the moratorium on housing assistance for those that are still housed but precariously housed, and haven't been making payments, and as the unemployment ends, I think you'll see even more of an uptick because that little bit of a safety net that is taken away," she says.

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect.
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