Wisconsin has a reputation for being in the top five states for sex trafficking, so combating the issue has long been a concern. On Thursday, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and advocates for victims of sex trafficking released a report on sex trafficking in the state last year.
Outlining the report, Kaul says sex trafficking cases have noticeably increased since the last assessment taken in 2013.
“I don't think that's because there has been a significant shift in the number of human trafficking cases. I think it is because of the work that people have done around the state of Wisconsin,” Kaul says.
In other words, Kaul attributes the increase in sex trafficking cases to the fact that more victims appear to be comfortable reporting the crime to law enforcement or advocacy groups.
But Kaul says there's more to be done in order to crack down on sex trafficking. He's calling for increased awareness, including among law enforcement. Kaul says it's important that officers distinguish between cases of prostitution and cases of sex trafficking.
He adds that conversations surrounding sex trafficking are typically centered on the victim’s connection to the trafficker. Kaul says not enough conversations focus on the methods abusers use to trap victims or evade law enforcement.
“When human traffickers target people to become victims of trafficking, they are using efforts to try to keep people in the trafficking network. They target people who they believe are vulnerable in many cases, and who may be struggling with access to consistent housing, who may be struggling with a substance use disorder, who may be struggling with a mental illness or another issue,” Kaul says.
Carmen Pitre is president and CEO of Sojourner Family Peace Center. Pitre says sex trafficking needs to be looked at as a fundamental violation of human rights. She says too many accounts of the crime talk about things like the romantic affections a victim may have toward an abuser. At Thursday's press conference, which was held at the center, Pitre criticized a news article that was written in such a manner.
“Why would you frame this issue this way? Romance has nothing to do with the issue of trafficking. We have to stop framing this issue this way. We continue to focus on her/him/their behavior, why don't they come forward — they don't come forward because it's not safe,” Pitre says.
Law enforcement and advocates for victims are concerned about a possible spike in sex trafficking during the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer. Some large gatherings in other states have led to an increase in the crime.
Common Council members want the Milwaukee Police Department to outline steps it will take to fight trafficking around the time of the convention. Police already say they're planning to train motel and hotel staff on how to recognize — and report — the crime.