We were requested to give testimony to our State of Wisconsin committee on human trafficking at one of their hearings; as their goal is to learn, investigate, and identify ways the state legislature can help improve the outcome of persons captured in various forms of human trafficking (HT). The Committee consists of 15 state representatives that chose to be on the committee: Goeben, Plumer, Gundrum, Dittrich, Johnson, Stefan, Titl, Mursau, O’ Conner, Emerson, Billings, Stubb, Conley, Madison, and Bowden.
We were to come prepared with answers to their prepared questions and with recommendations. We were joined by testimonies and reports from Department of Children and Families, the one HT Madison Sheriff, the one Madison HT Detective, Project Respect, and Zateo.
Here is what we had prepared and shared with the committee:
Please share First-Hand Experience & Observations of current status of HT in our area.
- We have survivor contacts from Slinger, Palmyra, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Appleton, Pewaukee, other states like of Colorado, Iowa, Alabama, and even from Canada.
- Many are searching for help, support, direction to not have to go back. They are currently homeless shelter, abuse shelter, hotel, car, or short term housing.
- They find us through: social/web, other organizations like Aurora, 411, one-off services, AND from our volunteers relatives or friends
- Some have been ‘out’ and surviving with government assistance, or some kind of family support, but reach out for the same help, support, and direction to learn to live.
- Some have been youth that approach us by themselves, or youth with parents, parents of victims showing up at our presentations looking to learn or to understand what was happening to them or how to stop what was happening.
- Most women have children and somehow many still have custody of a child.
- Being trafficked is described as being in “The Life”. Breaking free and staying out of ‘the no life’ is hard. What I call the “No Life” would be being sold for sex or earning money for survival sex. If a child is involved it makes it much harder and much more complicated. Many times that child can be the trafficker’s child, and any child becomes another tool to exert control over the victim. ( We are supporting a woman who traveled from Fl to WI to hide from a trafficker, who is the father of their child. The fear is overwhelming; she does anything to not sleep, she doesn’t want to eat of drink, she wants to escape by death. It takes constant & consistent reassurance, encouragement of her value and worth- and for the hope of possibilities. )
- We can take the woman and help lead her through a healing journey. But if she must parent and provide financially for her child too, the healing is much harder to get to while dealing with all of life’s regular pressures at the same time. Trying to live and function with complex trauma (the effects of daily physical/mental/emotional/sexual abuses- (basically treated as a product not a human) is almost impossible without a healthy support system and trauma therapy. The symptoms can be all of these and more: extreme anxiety, depression, suicidal, eating disorders, no sleep because of extreme nightmares, hyperarousal, disassociation, memory lapses, distorted sense of self, difficulty in having relationships, substance abuse, depersonalization, and chronic health issues. Housing services for women AND children is another challenging complexity to providing support. We are working on building connections and collaborations within the community to address this monumental, unmet need.
- Consider this- You were brutally raped, they filmed it, threatened your family, and then left alone. You must go home, pretend nothing happened (put it behind you), get up for work the next day and every day, and take care of your family. How easy does that sound? Yet- victims are raped multiple times a day and every day and many assume they just need a safe home and a job to be okay.
- The reason human trafficking is such a big problem is because of the demand. The demand is greatly fed by the existence of strip clubs in our communities. The design of these legal strips includes stalls/private booths to pay for sex acts. This is, of course NOT legal activity, which is allowed to continue out in the open with absolutely no intervention. The building design for these booths are also approved by local zoning boards. Many women end up getting manipulated, sold, and controlled by traffickers in and out of the strip clubs.
Example: Hopefully many of you have heard of the Hardware Store strip club in the little town of Clyman, WI, where one of the survivors we have been walking alongside for the last few years, helped close that strip club because of the pimp that trafficked her and others in that club (with collaboration of the owners). Because of one good detective that dug in further, she was able to bring forth testimony that helped build a case that got the trafficker sentenced to jail and also brought down the club. Hopefully, you understand that getting a conviction and closing a club is very rare and difficult.
- I want to point out what the women tell us why they go to the club. They are sold because of the glamour, money for college, or they have a history of being sexually abused so that they at first felt empowered that they would get paid instead of assaulted against their will.
- After being in the club for a time, the women definitely want out, but find it hard to walk away due to the need for the money to survive, the control of a trafficker, and the overwhelming shame and low self esteem makes them feel like trash and that no-one would hire them for a regular job. May also get addicted to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain and multiple traumas they have to endure every day. Thus, they need money for the alcohol and drugs.
- Who is the market? Those who are driving the demand are the people who continue to justify their actions by telling themselves it is consensual, she wants it, and she is getting paid. However, HE wants it for power, control, and to act out the porn, because he feels he is entitled. Those are actual answers from buyers. They are business owners, contractors, teachers…people in all occupations. Many are married and more than that have their own children.
Discuss tools, processes, and techniques that are working and have been found to be successful in Law Enforcement, Prosecution efforts, or victim care:
Law Enforcement & Prosecution:
- One survivor shares her thoughts- If I didn’t have law enforcement when I did, I am not sure I would be here. They played an incredible role in saving my life. But more importantly they believed me. It wasn’t just questioning me and it was over. They stuck with me. They gave me resources and showed me a path on which I could get better. Their consistency throughout the process was crucial in my recovery. It gave me hope in myself. More times than not the trafficker forces us to commit crimes, do things that are illegal and things we don’t want to be doing. So unfortunately , most victims look at law enforcement as a threat. And unfortunately some of the buyers of sex are law enforcement too. Imagine being put in a situation you don’t want to be in and then be scared that you are going to go to jail for things you don’t even want to be doing. BUT the FBI task force of Milwaukee helped me meet my basic needs and put me as a human first.
- Another survivor’s experience- the first police officer looked at her being drunk and abusive with the trafficker and saw her as the problem. Yet- information was collected and another detective was sent to talk to her days later. This detective saw her and listened. This led to a large prosecution case for the state where other victims came forward.
- One detective that I know has told me that as he began to work with victims, he had to learn entirely different tactics to work with and help victims than they had been trained with in the academy. He said it is often quite contrary to how they were trained to get the the criminals.
- #1 Consistent relationship support: texting, calling, send cards, meetings for coffee, food or coaching. Encouraging, asking questions, praying with them.
- #2 They must feel safe and have trusted people around them, not fearing retaliation or a trafficker finding them, a place for their bed and things- not fearing to have to leave.
- Constant reassuring -that we will not abandon them. They are valuable.
- Having another survivor in their corner. Even though their stories are most likely very different, the underlying theme is the same. They know they get each other and understand on another more than others can. Seeing another survivor ahead of them on the journey to recovering their life is very encouraging and reassuring.
- Trauma therapies; counselor, coaching, books, group sessions,
- Psychiatrist- using most drugs as temporary assistance, as part of the journey to be able to learn to deal with emotions and process them.
- Knowledge & learning- to understand the cycle of abuse, trafficking, boundaries, relationships, choices, and themselves. The who, what, why, and how things happened and happen.
- Choices with Grace: We need to empower them to make good choices for themselves and to be able to stand on their own two feet. We do not want to replace the trafficker as “the controller”. (Unfortunately that means that sometimes, as they are learning, they will have setbacks and make poor choices. We cannot abandon them, but continue to coach and love them in hopes that they choose to continue to redirect and move forward in a positive way.)
- Life skills- They will all need some learning of healthy life skills. To make adjustments from unhealthy survival skills; most especially when they suffer different kinds of abuse when they are young.
- Self care, which includes nutrition, hygiene, and making healthy choices.
- Building other healthy relationships
- Helping others. They feel good and useful when helping someone else. Everything isn’t about them.
- After there is some movement in growth and healing, then we can address education, job training, and opportunities they are interested to move forward as productive citizens of the community.
Discuss new or additional tools, that can be considered by the legislature to better equip our various agencies, law enforcement, and private groups in addressing the challenges coming from HT:
- Laws regarding strip clubs for enforcement of current laws regarding to prostitution. Not allowing for these special rooms/booths for sex acts. The design should be no different than for any other bar or restaurant.
- More collaboration between agencies and private groups encompassing the different aspects of this issue.
- Help write special CBRF rules for these specific type of homes. (We are currently in with nursing care type facilities, which does not reflect the unique needs and causes significantly more financial burden and difficulties to be able to serve these women.)
- Regular education of local judges and prosecutors as well as law enforcement officials. This education should include the overlap of drugs, alcoholism, mental health, abuse (physical and emotional), the existence of familial trafficking, vulnerabilities, and the fact that this includes victims who come from ALL economic backgrounds.
- Collaboration with the Department of Children & Families to help educate and understand the unique position of victims who have children. The short time period that is currently allowed for a mother to “get it together” or she could forever lose her child is detrimental and inadequate for the overwhelming amount of healing and recovery that the victim has to do. It is important to help reunite the family into a healthy, functioning family and to look at each situation on an individual basis, so as not to be more of a financial burden on the State of WI.
- Required education of teachers & guidance counselors who are on the front lines so they know the red flags, what to look for, and how the trafficking issue includes the overlap of drugs, alcoholism, mental health, abuse (physical and emotional), the existence of familial trafficking, vulnerabilities, and the fact that this includes victims who come from ALL economic backgrounds.
- Educate teachers and guidance counselors that they are mandatory reporters and this does include human trafficking concerns.
- Requirement that human trafficking awareness be included in the Health class curriculum for high school students.
- Additional protection and sensitivity with creative ideas for the survivor when they are testifying against their perpetrators. Many traffickers escape prosecution, are never brought to justice, and keep doing business as usual because the process for the victim to testify is so difficult and traumatic. Having to testify in a courtroom in front of their perpetrator triggers PTSD symptoms and the overwhelming fear keeps them from being able to commit to this process. Creation of a panel to brainstorm ideas of how to make this process more victim friendly is needed to bring more traffickers to justice.
- Specific law enforcement training on communication & techniques in working with victims. Most are trained to get the info they need however possible, to close the case to get the perp which include manipulationBUT not skilled in empathy and coaching.
- Law enforcement to learn effects of trauma: know the red flags, what to look for, and how the trafficking issue includes the overlap of drugs, alcoholism, mental health, abuse (physical and emotional), the existence of familial trafficking, vulnerabilities, and the fact that this includes victims who come from ALL economic backgrounds. And that their fear is VERY real, to be treated much like they are on withdrawal. Some law enforcement have been their perpetrators/buyers and survivors having been arrested previously and treated like trash. Some law enforcement even have working relationships with traffickers. AGAIN- perpetrators can be anyone.
After sharing this testimony, there were multiple state representatives asking good questions. And their discussion amongst each other afterward was thankfulness for all that was shared and learned during the long day! This makes me hopeful! We should see some helpful items coming from our legislature to help support healing for victims!
-Chaplain Krista Hull, Founder & Executive Director of Redeem and Restore Center