Attorney General Takes Steps to Address Human Trafficking in Wisconsin

On Wednesday, September 13, Attorney General Brad Schimel announced the creation of a new Human Trafficking Bureau at the Department of Justice. In his release, Schimel said, “Human trafficking is an insidious crime that affects victims in small and large communities, rural and urban. The DOJ Human Trafficking Bureau will be a resource to communities all across the state in the fight to stop human trafficking and to protect the victims who have been coerced and extorted into sex and labor work.”  The Human Trafficking Bureau will be staffed by one special agent in charge and six special agents from the DOJ Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and will promote public safety through proactive enforcement.

In an interview with The Wheeler Report, Schimel said human trafficking is, “modern day slavery. You can be talking about labor trafficking or sex trafficking, we’re seeing both in Wisconsin. They are different than each other, but they have the same basic core, that through force, fraud or coercion someone is being put into some kind of servitude.”  Schimel said DOJ has not spent as much time focused on the labor trafficking, but admitted it is “on the horizon” for the state to address. Schimel explained that most of DOJ’s efforts have been on sex trafficking. Schimel said. “We know that human trafficking exists in almost every county in the state.  We surveyed local and county law enforcement statewide and virtually all counties reported back that they have had experiences with it in their communities.” Schimel admitted that human trafficking is hard to track, calling it “one of the most underground crimes we deal with.” Schimel described that even in drug rings DOJ is able to start getting information and going further into the drug rings and making progress.  Schimel said in human trafficking the victims are “brainwashed” and they live in so much fear they won’t speak out.  Schimel described the victims as living with evil, but said the evil they know is sometimes less scary than the unknown.  Schimel said that fear makes it more difficult for law enforcement to get victims to talk. Schimel said national measures have given results showing Wisconsin is disproportionately high for both people dealing in human trafficking and victims of trafficking. Schimel explained there are large numbers of both traffickers who are either in Wisconsin or have ties to Wisconsin, and victims who are from Wisconsin. Schimel went on to explain that a lot of people have the notion that victims of human trafficking made bad choices in their lives, or that this is somehow regular prostitution. Schimel emphasized that this is not regular prostitution, and these people didn’t choose this for their lives.

When asked what people should be looking for, Schimel said human trafficking is “hiding in plain sight.” Schimel explained that DOJ has been working with over-the-road truck drivers because truck stops are a prime target.  Schimel highlighted the recent efforts by the Wisconsin Lodging Association to create a webinar to train lodging facilities in Wisconsin on what to look for. Schimel emphasized that in order to stop human trafficking, DOJ and law enforcement needed to focus on demand.  Schimel was perfectly clear when he said, “We’re going after them.” Meaning those who demand sex trafficking services. Schimel highlighted that traffickers are efficient at cycling victims though strip clubs, gentlemen’s clubs, dance clubs etc, saying that traffickers move the girls a lot in and out of different jurisdictions.  Schimel also highlighted the increased access through internet connections using social media, Craigslist, and the dark web.

Schimel finished by saying DOJ and the new Human Trafficking Bureau will be working in a coordinated effort with local and county law enforcement to address human trafficking in Wisconsin. Schimel highlighted the interaction between human trafficking and other crimes like drugs, violent crimes, and financial crimes.   Schimel said he doesn’t believe public service announcements would be as effective as with the Heroin epidemic, but says one key to stopping human trafficking is bringing awareness to the issue and shutting down demand.