Attorney General Josh Kaul wants to strengthen Wisconsin’s efforts to combat human trafficking, calling for six new positions at the Department of Justice to help with investigations.
“There’s both sex trafficking and forced labor,” Kaul told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “... It’s in my view an outrage that this is a crime that still exists. It’s important we raise awareness of it.”
Kaul’s remarks came just a few days before our stories today about a community effort to open a safe house in Kenosha County. It would be the largest house operated by Selah Freedom, a Florida-based nonprofit with a mission to end sex trafficking.
The house will be staffed 24 hours a day and provide a safe residential program for survivors. Kenosha County was chosen as the location because of its proximity between Chicago and Milwaukee.
“When the girls walk through our house, we want them to feel valued,” Jennifer Skanron, a Selah Freedom board member and Pleasant Prairie resident, told reporter Jeffrey Zampanti. “Their lives were not made to be trafficked. They are a person of value and they’re important. All of this is for them. There are people here who are ready to help them transform their lives.”
Sex trafficking is the second-largest organized crime behind drug trafficking. Every year, over 300,000 American children are trafficked.
“It’s everywhere,” said Neal Lofy, a nationally recognized investigator of the Racine Police Department, told Zampanti. “These are people that live in our community that were either thrown away by their families or stuck in a lifestyle that they’ve been groomed by a trafficker. There’s not a shiny sign on them that says I’m a human trafficking victim ...”
The state Department of Justice holds training for law enforcement, both in how to conduct human trafficking investigations and teaching about the signs of trafficking. “One of the problems with this issue is it’s been under-reported,” Kaul said. “We don’t think there’s as much awareness as there should be, and so making sure that people in law enforcement know what to look for — and know the signs of trafficking — is an important part of combating it.”
Kaul said four of the positions he’s requesting would join the DOJ’s digital forensics unit, which focuses on recovering evidence from electronic devices. They would assist law enforcement agencies throughout Wisconsin.
“People involved in all sorts of crimes use electronic devices, just like everybody else,” Kaul told the Journal Sentinel “Being able to recover evidence from those devices helps with all sorts of investigations, including human trafficking investigations.”
The other two positions would join the Internal Crimes Against Children Task Force and help “ensure prompt referral and investigation of tips” received from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He said they would help with case follow-ups.
Gov. Tony Evers has included the new positions in his budget plan. Here’s an area where the Democratic governor and the majority Republicans in the legislature should agree.
Our community, by rallying to help get the Selah Freedom home open, has shown the urgency required. Legislators on both sides should too.