BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, often takes place under the cover of darkness, but local volunteers and law enforcement are working to shine a light for victims who want to find a way out.
Photo: Imagens Evangélicas / CC BY 2.0
There's a perception that the crime does not exist in Northeast Wisconsin. Target 2 Investigates saw first hand that it happens here.
Target 2 followed local undercover investigators as they arrested sex traffickers and tried to get help for the victims. In Wisconsin, law enforcement made 82 arrests during Operation Cross Country XI. Sixteen of those arrests happened in Brown County.
It's a life most of us cannot comprehend. The local organization Eye Heart World helps victims.
"What woman wakes up when she's a teenager, and says, 'you know what, I want to sleep with 10-15 men in a night?' That's what I want to do with my life,'" asks Dawn Spang, Eye Heart World Outreach Coordinator.
That's what we see happening, day and night, as ads flood the internet.
THE FACE OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN NORTHEAST WISCONSIN
Target 2 watched as local, state, and federal investigators responded to ads and arranged to meet two women from this area. It happened in a matter of hours.
During a ride along, we saw women arrive at upscale apartment complexes, all in view of the public.
"A Monday is just as busy as a Friday," says Sgt. Matt Wilson, Brown County Sheriff's Office.
The first woman is a mother with a full-time job. She tells investigators that she's being trafficked.
The money she gets from her pimp goes toward raising her young children.
The second woman tells a similar story. She says she's also using the money to support her children.
These women are the face of human trafficking in Northeast Wisconsin.
WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?
In one month this summer, Eye Heart World helped seven women ages 15-23, and two minors. One of the young girls is from Brown County.
"Often times, they just have no other means to support themselves. They don't have a place to stay, so often times their trafficker provides a bed to sleep in, food to eat and a place to belong," Spang says.
Advocates tell us many of these woman are forced into human trafficking, some by their own family members. National statistics show some victims as young as age 12.
"We do know people post there that potentially could be selling their sibling or their brother, sister, girlfriend or something, unbeknownst to that person," Sgt. Wilson says.
Investigators see counter-surveillance: men looking out for police and watching the women arrive and leave.
"Sometimes it's very common for the trafficker to bring the girls to the meet spots," says Investigator Bob Messer, Ashwaubenon Public Safety.
They've seen the traffickers get women hooked on drugs. They've seen traffickers threaten to kill their victims. It leaves the victims little chance to get out.
That changes on nights of human trafficking operations.
"We let them know what services are available to them and what we can offer them," Messer says.
A WAY OUT
Dawn Spang and Eye Heart World work alongside officers during trafficking operations. They respond to calls in the middle of the night to seize the moment a woman needs help.
"The one resident we have in the home, the officer who had taken her into custody visited her yesterday just to kind of see how things are going," Spang says. "She feels like, if it weren't for him, she wouldn't have gotten the help she needed."
Polaris is a national anti-human trafficking organization. It shows locations of potentially known cases of human trafficking.
Northeast Wisconsin shows high activity.
Target 2 ran the numbers in Brown County. Seventy human trafficking-
related charges have been filed by the Brown County District Attorney's Office since Jan. 1, 2017.
Human trafficking is such a problem here, Eye Heart World moved its headquarters to Brown County.
"They really feel stuck, and our goal is really to show them that there's a way out," Spang says.
The organization has opened Rose Home in Brown County. It's a safe
zone for victims to live without fear and get help to rebuild their lives. They go through a 14-month program.
"They get trauma-informed counseling, both individual and group therapy. They get life skills training, so working with them on how to create a budget, how to cook, how to clean," Spang says.
They get schooling and help with finding a job. These skills make them independent.
Three women took that step during the month of October.
"We keep telling them, it's going to be worth it," Spang says. "It's going to be hard, but it'll be worth it in the end."
The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more than 100 calls each day.
Target 2 has curated a list of resources for victims and people who would like to help:
National Human Trafficking Hotline
National Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics:
Eye Heart World (resources for help and indicators):
Polaris Project (an anti-human trafficking organization and resource of help and statistics):
DoSomething.org Facts about Human Trafficking