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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

January 14, 2013

On December 31, 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, also a month that coincides with 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As has been reported in the past few years, human trafficking is in the spotlight as more people become aware that it indeed happens. See the presidential resolution.

Human trafficking is the means by which slavery occurs, or the process of modern day enslavement. This servitude can be for forced labor or sexual exploitation, or both. Victims are trafficked by force, fraud or coercion. And of course, even in the case of labor-related trafficking, sexual, dating or domestic violence can be one of the means by which traffickers intimidate, manipulate, and coerce victims.

A textile worker in Nepal indebted to her employer; a woman brought from the Philippines to be a maid for 20 years in Waukesha County; or an American girl sold into prostitution by family members as collateral against their debts. The situations that lead people to be victims of human trafficking vary greatly. Not only women and girls are affected, but transgendered individuals, as well as boys and men are also victims of labor and sex trafficking. In the beginning, they may have been promised a job with fair wages; a better opportunity for themselves or their family. However, the bottom line is trafficked persons are trapped by threats of abuse, coercion and intimidation for an indefinite amount of time. Sometimes, the burden is passed on to their children.

Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, totaling $32 billion each year. It is estimated there are 27 million people in slavery worldwide.

The term human trafficking invokes images of foreign ports and far-off places. But this is a world-wide problem, including our own back yard. Wisconsin sees trafficking as well, where domestic and foreign victims have been identified in both urban and rural communities. In one survey it was reported that 130 out of 179 victims identified in Wisconsin were from within North America and 27 from Latin American, Mexico or the Caribbean.  Trafficking victims originated in communities such as Kenosha, Hales Corners, Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Wautoma and Green Bay. These important statistics revealed by surveys highlighted in Hidden in Plain Sight, a report by the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (2008) that also includes victim phone interviews.

What is Wisconsin doing about it?

In 2008, the Wisconsin legislature passed anti-human trafficking legislation that models the federal law but adds an affirmative defense for adult women charged with prostitution if pimps control them by controlling their access to drugs.  The protections of the 2008 law was broadened in 2012 to add additional investigative tools for law enforcement.  In 2013, advocates hope to further broaden Wisconsin’s law to promote justice for adult and children sex trafficking victims.

Slave Free Madison is a community coalition that raises awareness of human trafficking in the Madison area. See their Status of Human Trafficking in Wisconsin.

Also read the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: Dane County Needs Assessment (2011), by Project Respect, which conducted interviews with agencies that may come in to contact with commercially sexually exploited children and youth.

  • In March 2012, Project Respect released a baseline assessment of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).  This study was funded by the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance and is modeled after Hope International’s study of domestic minor sex trafficking victims in the U.S.   Minor sex trafficking victims had been encountered by school teachers and social workers, juvenile justice workers, law enforcement, and youth services providers in Dane County.  Included in the report are survivor narratives of young adult women who are survivors of CSEC.

5 Stones (Appleton and Madison) fights against the social injustice of sex trafficking in Wisconsin

The Thailand Project (Stevens Point) works to end stateless people, who are targets for human traffickers, through education and advocacy

Trafficking Ends with Action (Milwaukee) engages with the community, providing research and education to build networks of effective action to end modern day slavery.

UMOS (Milwaukee) assists and helps potential victims of human trafficking become more self sufficient.

The Office of Justice Assistance Human Trafficking Committee includes some of these groups and meets quarterly to strategically plan for human trafficking intervention in Wisconsin. There is much work to be done and a lot being organized to help. Contact any of these groups and see where you can help!

Check out some resources on human trafficking

What you can do:

  • Educate yourself and your community. Read stories about people in Wisconsin who were involved in the sex and labor trade.
    • Attend the 3rd Annual SlaveFree Madison Film Festival, Saturday, January 26, 2013. Learn more here.
    • Initiate community action. Read about groups addressing human trafficking in Wisconsin. Maybe volunteer for one


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