NEWS STORIES

Human Trafficking Happening Everywhere, Even the NorthwoodsSubmitted: 11/27/2012

RHINELANDER - Human Trafficking: not a problem you'd ever imagine having in the Northwoods.

But one local group is saying it is here; people just don't know how to identify it.

"The injustice, the outrage of human trafficking must be called by its true name: modern slavery," said President Obama in an address on trafficking.

Slavery fueled by crimes against Americans. Eighty percent of trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens. Eighty two percent of those victims are from sex trafficking. The first step in fighting it is to tackle misconceptions.

"The most common misconception is that trafficking means that it's only a crime if there's some type of international transportation. What we're really talking about is a crime of either forced labor or forced sex trafficking," says John Vaudreuil, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.

One of the biggest problems is people see those victims as common prostitutes, in the profession willingly.

"What we're talking about is really peonage; involuntary, compelled, in this case, sex trafficking," says Vaudreuil.

The biggest challenge for prosecutors is they don't get self-reporting victims.

"They're terrified of the police, they're terrified of the person who's controlling them. So the challenge for us is to see people as victims when they are not going to report themselves as victims," says Vaudreuil.

"It's very important, I felt, to bring the information to not only law enforcement but to all of the systems that could potentially work with victims to recognize the red flags," says Shellie Holmes, Executive Director of the Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Once Holmes recognized those red flags she was stunned to realize it has already been right in front of them.

"I realized that in the last three years we have had three trafficked women in our shelter. We just didn't know how to identify it," says Holmes.

A problem the council hopes education will solve. For now, they want the community to keep its eyes open and keep in mind things may not always be what they seem.

Story By: Lyndsey Stemm

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