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2012 column image: 
2012 column title: 

A True Story About Child Sex Trafficking

2012 column date: 
Thursday, November 29, 2012
2012 column text: 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Julie[1] is a 15-year-old runaway trying to survive. Coming from a broken home, she has no money, little education, no shelter and few if any real friends. She does, however, have her body and unfortunately that has substantial value to many who are willing to exploit her. Predators who know that she is desperate for food and shelter “sell” her to “clients” willing to pay to use her body for their base sexual gratification. Julie isn’t worried about homecoming or algebra like other teenagers. Julie is concerned about where her next meal is coming from and what her next “client” is going to do to her or make her do to him. Julie is worried about staying alive.


This is not a fictional story, nor is it based in a foreign country or New York or Los Angeles. This is a true story, based right here in Wisconsin. Child trafficking is the sexual exploitation of a child for commercial purposes and is happening every day to children in this state. Kids are bought and sold for the sex trade outside of sporting events, on the Internet, on street corners, and at truck stops all over our state. Our law enforcement officers report child trafficking victims from Wisconsin Dells, Sheboygan, Appleton, Elk Mound, Madison, Milwaukee, Onalaska and numerous other cities throughout Wisconsin.


Runaways are especially vulnerable. As many as 2.8 million children run away each year in the US. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography.[2]


The trafficking trade does not just ensnare runaways, however. It is important to understand that any child can be trafficked regardless of race, class, education, gender, age, or citizenship. Exploiters can lure a victim with an offer of basic necessities like food and clothing, but often the promise of attention, friendship, or a loving “relationship” is enough. Once they gain control, traffickers often resort to violence, intimidation, access to drugs, or psychological manipulation to trap the child in a life of prostitution.


The sheer magnitude of the problem is staggering, with the Internet creating an easy and accessible venue for trafficking transactions. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated between 200,000 and 300,000 children were being forced into prostitution at any given time in the United States and that the average age of a new child prostitute was 13-years-old. Children can be re-sold multiple times bringing in continuous profits for their exploiters, making it very lucrative. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates that human trafficking is a $32 billion industry and is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, second only to the drug trade.[3]


There is no group of victims more vulnerable or more in need of law enforcement protection than these youth who are being sexually exploited. That is why I have made dismantling this criminal enterprise a top priority at the Department of Justice. By utilizing the resources and expertise that exist in DOJ’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, we can enhance our ability to identify and rescue child victims and hold their offenders accountable. At both the Attorney General’s Summit for Law Enforcement and the state prosecutor’s conferences this summer, we focused training on identification, investigation and prosecution of human trafficking.


Additionally, as part of my 2013-2015 biennial budget, I am requesting additional special agents and criminal analysts, dedicated exclusively to fighting child sex trafficking. And this February, we are co-sponsoring a two-day conference entirely focused on human trafficking and the numerous issues that service providers, law enforcement and prosecutors face when attempting to rescue trafficking victims and prosecute their exploiters. Our website contains resources for law enforcement, prosecutors, victim service professionals and victims here.


At the Wisconsin Department of Justice, we will continue to support all crime victims and strive to make sure that the criminal justice system response to victims of human trafficking is supportive and effective in holding offenders accountable. Our Office of Crime Victim Services (OCVS) helps victims understand their rights and access the assistance they deserve.


If you are a victim of human trafficking, or suspect that someone close to you might be, please know that help is available 24 hours a day by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1 (888) 373-7888.

[1] The name of the actual victim in this case has been changed to protect her identity.

[2] The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

[3] U.S. State Department.