Would it surprise you to know that there are approximately 300,000 minors in the United States lured into the commercial sex trade every year?

Human trafficking is explained by the Department of Homeland Security as involving, “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

Many individuals who are trafficked face numerous amounts of abuse, both physical and sexual. The scariest thing is that the average age for someone to be trafficked is between 11 and 14, and it is happening right here in our state. 

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Wisconsin has passed several laws to help protect survivors and to prosecute traffickers. But under current Wisconsin law, it isn’t just traffickers that can be prosecuted, but victims as well — in particular, child victims. The current law would allow police to prosecute children under the age of 18 for prostitution — instead of being seen as victims, they are seen as criminals.

We can’t begin to imagine the level of trauma these child victims go through while being trafficked and then victimized further by a system that should be protecting them. Some law enforcement agencies want to keep the current law in place to get victims to give up their traffickers. These law enforcement agencies fear that by taking this law away, they would be unable to find and prosecute traffickers.  

Many Wisconsin Legislators wish to see an end to this victimization and have introduced the Safe Harbor bill to the Wisconsin Legislation. The Safe Harbor bill would effectively end the prosecution of minors as prostitutes and would instead give resources to these survivors. This bill has already been passed in 20 other states including Minnesota and Illinois. Since passing Safe Harbor in Minnesota, the state has seen a significant uptick in convictions of traffickers. Eight traffickers were convicted prior to the passage of Safe Harbor in Minnesota, increasing after passage to 32 in 2012 and 45 in 2016.

MPD, local organizations work to address human trafficking in WisconsinWhen he asks high schoolers why human trafficking exists, secretary of Slave Free Madison Ron Heinrich said their response is Read…

The Safe Harbor bill passed unanimously in the State Senate last session but didn’t make it to the floor of the State Assembly. This bill has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Additionally, former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, who was originally against the Safe Harbor Bill, had a “change of heart.”

“Trafficked individuals should be recognized as victims, not willful prostitutes or criminals, especially when it comes to children,” Schimel said.

To help, you can go to the Wisconsin Legislation Website and look up who your senator and representative are and contact them, letting them you support Assembly Bill 41 and Senate Bill 49 and why. Let’s join the 25 other states that have passed this bill and show our support to the survivors of this horrible crime. 

Amelia Gonzales ([email protected]) is pursuing a Masters in social work.