Arrests shine light on fight against human trafficking in Northeast Wisconsin
Three people--including a teenage girl--have been taken into custody following a human trafficking investigation in Brown County.
The Brown County Sheriff's Office says it received information that commercial sex trafficking and human sex trafficking were happening in the county.
During a two-day investigation, July 11-12, officers arrested an adult man, an adult woman, and a juvenile girl. The trio is from Milwaukee.
Jail records indicate the juvenile suspect is 15-years-old.
"We have all ages that are involved, all types of individuals that are involved in this type of activity," says Lt. Jim Valley, Brown County Sheriff's Office. "And we're continuing to focus on it and evaluate what we really have within the community."
The suspects have been booked in the Brown County Jail. The Sheriff's Office is recommending Human Trafficking charges.
"The commercial sex trafficking is someone getting paid to perform, to pay some type of sex act, which is illegal and like prostitution," Lt. Valley says. "The human trafficking is someone else benefiting from a victim being sent out to perform these sex acts."
Valley says these charges are more severe than prostitution.
"When we deal with these types of crimes, they aren't just prostitution. We're dealing with victims of these crimes, individuals that don't want to actually do this but are being forced to do this by someone else," Valley says.
The case remains under investigation. The Sheriff's Office is not releasing names or additional details at this time.
Valley says this human trafficking is a big problem in our area. "I think it's wide range. I think it's always been here," he says. "One of the things we have to realize is, we have to educate ourselves that individuals aren't just picked off the street within Brown County and forced into this. It's a gradual process that does happen"
Lt. Valley says these crimes lead to additional offenses in the community.
"These types of crimes also lead to other types of crimes, like robberies and different types of drug sales, etc., that are involved in it," Valley says.
Dawn Spang works for Eye Heart World, a non-profit organization that is part of the fight against human trafficking.
She says we hear more about human trafficking because law enforcement agencies are more proactive.
"I think it's taken to a different level. I mean, there's always been prostitution, but I think it's looked at in a different light now because when we talk with survivors of human trafficking, whether they have been in it for a year, or two years or ten years, something has happened to them in their life to make them feel like this is their only option," Spang says. "And essentially human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and slavery has been around for years. I think it's just taken to a different level now because of the amount of money that traffickers can make."
Spang says a trafficker can make up to $1 million per year by trafficking four girls. Spang says that's why we see such high demand.
"I don't think it's unique to our area. I think it's all over. The reason why we see such a high demand in our area, and why we have numbers and statistics on this is because we have law enforcement that's willing to deal with it," Spang says.
Spang says law enforcement in other parts of the country are not as eager to take on human trafficking.
"They're afraid who's going to show up to a sting operation, for example, who's going to show up as a purchaser of sex? And in our community, law enforcement doesn't care who shows up. They want the issue to be dealt with, and they want the trafficking problem to decrease and to go away," Spang says.
Eye Heart World is working to open a home for survivors who need an immediate place to go.
Rose Home will be the first of its kind in the state of Wisconsin.
"We are set to open the Rose Home in August, in late August and we'll be assisting trafficking survivors, women ages 18 and up," Spang says.
Survivors may not realize that what's happening to them is wrong. Eye Heart World will connect them with resources, counselors, treatment, and education.
"Do they need assistance with education or with housing or treatment? Sometimes there are alcohol and drug issues involved, so we look to get them connected to AODA treatment," Spang says.
Lt. Valley confirms the importance of partnering with groups like Eye Heart World.
"Our goal is, since this has been going on for so long and nothing has really been done, we want to help the victims of these crimes to help eradicate it that way," Valley says. "There's individuals that are on narcotics or being forced to do this, and being forced physically to do these types of things and we want to help those victims and reach out. So our enforcement really includes the helping of victims and working with groups like Eye Heart World to give them the assistance they need."