County Executive Joe Parisi announced Oct. 23 the inclusion of $80,000 in Dane County’s 2020 budget for Project Respect in response to a rising prevalence of sex trafficking.

ARC Community Services runs Project Respect, a program launched to help sex trafficking survivors through counseling, crisis intervention and advocacy. Project Respect plans to use the money from the 2020 budget to create a new full-time position focused on reuniting survivors with their families and stabilizing living conditions, according to a Dane County press release.

“Sex trafficking is a growing concern locally and across the country,” Parisi said. “It often flies under the radar screen and people aren’t aware that it’s occurring. This summer I met with a lot of different folks who deal with the issue to see what more the county could do to help out.”

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The new position in Project Respect will also allow for more rapid responses to calls from other Dane County organizations. According to its website, Project Respect’s mission is to support survivors’ efforts to change their lives.

Director of Project Respect Jan Miyasaki spoke at the Dane County press conference when the 2020 budget was announced. 

“Thank you to the county executive for the strength to acknowledge the problem of sex trafficking and the need for specialized human services for survivors of sex trafficking — in our own backyard,” Miyasaki said in the conference.

Last year, Parisi added a new position in the Neighborhood Intervention Program. The new position was tasked with carrying out prevention efforts in the community and working with vulnerable populations which could be potential targets of sex trafficking.

Parisi hoped the creation of these two new positions could help mitigate the effects of sex trafficking in the community.

“We want to alert people to the fact that it occurs and work with hotels and law enforcement and start training people to spot what could be sex trafficking,” Parisi said. “Then we want people and resources available for people who have been trafficked to help them with safety planning or case management or whatever resources they may need.”

Dane County Director of Human Services Shawn Tessman discussed the new position in the Neighborhood Intervention Program in an email. 

Prior to the creation of the position, Tessman said the Neighborhood Intervention Program did not have a direct focus on sex trafficking prevention. Nevertheless, many young people who were at risk were supported by the staff through other programs, Tessman said.

“The new position has created space for staff both within the agency and at partner agencies to collaborate more effectively, problem solve together, process through specific instances, and provide more support to those most affected,” Tessman said.

Tessman said the Neighborhood Intervention Program employs prevention strategies in different ways. The program often partners with local nonprofits, law enforcement and schools to find ways each organization can help within the community.

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Another strategy, Tessman said, is to try to make sure individual needs are met so people are less likely to turn to sex trafficking as an alternative way to make a living.

Neighborhood Intervention Program also provides training upon request to service agencies on what trafficking looks like and what they can do to help others, Tessman said.

“Any person is vulnerable to being exploited through sex trafficking — however there are several life circumstances that may increase a person’s risk,” Tessman said. “For example, traffickers often seek out individuals experiencing homelessness, poverty, and/or addiction and use these situations to coerce the individual into trafficking.”

Neighborhood Intervention Program works with individuals who are under 18 in the community who may be at risk of being exploited. Tessman said the program does not need a confirmation to prove the individual is being exploited before extending help. Instead, they provide resources and services to young people in the area that benefit them.

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Tessman also said it is important for people to be conscious of the language they use when discussing sex trafficking as it can have a profound impact on those affected. 

Tessman said people can use person-first and empowering language to support people who have lived this experience. 

“A lot of folk who meet the legal definition of ‘trafficking victims’ do not think of themselves that way or may not have the words to define their experiences,” Tessman said. “There is no single narrative or story that explains every person’s experience. There are a lot of different ways this form of exploitation could look or feel to any individual.”