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Sex trafficking in Washington County, WI | By Jean L. Merry

July 23, 2022 – Washington Co., WI – “Sex trafficking is happening here, in Washington County” said Wendy Smith of Washington County Anti-Trafficking Advocates in her presentation Wednesday evening, July 20, at the Moose Lodge in West Bend. “So, we need everyone’s help and engagement.”

The goal of her organization, according to Smith, is to educate people about the issues, advocate for victims and their families, and provide resources at an overwhelming time.

She described the biggest hurdle as the lack of urgency in addressing the issue because people “don’t believe trafficking happens here,” referencing Washington County and rural areas. She suggested that the mindset needs to be adjusted, because most people think that sex trafficking, exploitation and extortion are the result of abductions.

Statistics show 43 percent of victims never meet their abusers in person – they meet online, and only 3 percent are the result of abductions.

“This is happening here,” Smith emphasized, and then specifically focused on children in defining the problem. “Kids are sexting at an alarming rate and are complacent about it.” They are targeted via social media, lured into sharing explicit photos and are then extorted. They are threatened with exposure and shame unless they pay huge sums of money, send more pictures or agree to become involved in extorting others.

trafficking

For these youths trading sexually explicit pictures has become like trading baseball cards. “Kids are not safe at home if they are on the internet and social media,” she warned, because they are not savvy about social media dangers. Smith advised parents to know what their children are doing online and with social media. “That is not ‘nosey’ – it’s love.”

In 2018 videographers Rachel Womack from Today and Forever Video Production in Slinger and Jennifer Hood from R&J Documentary Films published a piece on sex trafficking in Wisconsin.

Smith’s presentation was followed by some comments by Washington County Sheriff Martin Schulteis. He explained virtually every such case in which the sheriff’s department becomes involved is tied to internet usage.

Unfortunately, he said, arrests do not reflect the magnitude of the problem, as trafficking is the most under-reported crime due to the shame felt by the victims.

 

And yet one-third of their caseload involves sex crimes, and many cases go across state lines, so the FBI becomes involved. A recent case that began in rural Washington County, because a contractor noticed something “off” when doing a home repair, eventually involved 13 states.

A couple other bullet points on human trafficking:
  • Taffickers are master manipulators.
  • If they can hook one human they can use them over and over. You can sell people 30 times a night.
  • Traffickers patiently wait.
  • We are over sharing on social media and it is not OK.
  • The problem is not just Cuties on Netflix, every aspect of society from music to movies to social media is now nhighly sexualized.
  • It’s not grab and go it is a manipulation and grooming and trust and exploiting

The event, sponsored by the Washington County Republican Women, concluded with a presentation by Deacon Steve Przedpelski of Franciscan Peacemakers. He talked about his organization’s work helping women escape prostitution due to trauma, sex trafficking and drug addiction. The goal is to provide a pathway to healthy, productive lives so these women can earn an income and have a normal existence.

It is worth noting his organization recently moved to the area of 34th and Lisbon in Milwaukee because it is “the most trafficked and prostituted area.”

Anyone interested in more information or attending one of the anti-trafficking presentations for this fall can email Wendy Smith at [email protected]

 

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