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Guest Column by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
Human trafficking is a serious crime in which people profit from the control and exploitation of others. Victims include children involved in the sex trade, adults who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and people forced into different forms of labor or services. Although it is difficult to estimate the breadth of human trafficking, the most recent information that we have indicates it is a $32 billion global industry -- the fastest growing and second largest criminal activity in the world. The United Nations crime-fighting office announced that 2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking at any one time, and 80 percent of them are being exploited in the sex trade.
Here in Wisconsin, we know human trafficking exists but have found the problem difficult to quantify with any certainty, largely because human trafficking is difficult to identify and investigate without special training. Traffickers want to isolate victims and make it tough for them to access anyone who might help, often using violence and threats of violence to silence the vulnerable. Victims who do come into contact with law enforcement may be terrified that if they reveal the true conditions under which they live and are forced to work, the traffickers will retaliate against them or their families. Victims forced to engage in illegal acts also may have been told by traffickers that if law enforcement officers discover the truth, they will be the ones to go to prison rather than the trafficker.
It is my goal to overcome these barriers to identifying and prosecuting human trafficking by making it a priority to train law enforcement officers and prosecutors how to best identify and assist victims. On June 6-8, 2012, I will be hosting special training for law enforcement officers as part of the 2012 Attorney General's Summit on Public Safety at Chula Vista Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells. That same week, on June 5th at the Heidel House in Green Lake, the Department of Justice's State Prosecutor Education and Training Conference will feature a half a day of training for prosecutors from around the state that also focuses on how to effectively use existing criminal laws to hold traffickers accountable for their crimes. At both training sessions, the attendees will hear from law enforcement officers and prosecutors who have successfully investigated, prosecuted and convicted human traffickers in Wisconsin. Each training also will include a segment in which trafficking survivors share their stories.
Although law enforcement is making progress against human trafficking, more work needs to be done. We need to end this form of modern slavery, bring traffickers to justice, and empower survivors to reclaim their freedom. I urge all Wisconsinites to educate themselves about the signs and consequences of human trafficking. Together we can combat this crime within our borders and join our global partners to end it.
If you are a victim of human trafficking, or if you suspect someone close to you is being trafficked, please contact the Department of Justice's (DOJ), Office of Crime Victim Services at (800) 446-6564, or your local law enforcement agency. Visit the DOJ's online resources for more information: Information about Human Trafficking