For many of us, the term “human trafficking” sounds like something that happened a long time ago and somewhere very far away. It sounds like something we read out in our history books in school, not like something that happens today, even in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, human trafficking happens right here in our state. Some people call it the modern form of slavery. Traffickers prey on vulnerable men, women and children who are tricked or forced into performing work without pay or participating in dangerous and degrading activities.
According to statewide domestic abuse organizations, calls for help placed to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline increased 260 percent between 2008 and 2012.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice conducted a baseline survey of human trafficking in Wisconsin in 2013. Their survey found that human trafficking exists in Wisconsin and takes the form of sex trafficking and labor trafficking and the victims are both children and adults.
The DOJ surveyed prosecutors, victim advocates, social service providers and first responders. The respondents said that, in their experience, the problem of human trafficking is increasing in the state and it occurs in both rural and urban areas.
In Wisconsin, trafficking is defined as knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining an individual without their consent for the purposes of a commercial sex act or labor and services.
The Wisconsin Assembly recently approved Assembly Bill 620 (AB 620). It addresses the problem of human trafficking by giving law enforcement officials more tools to combat the problem and by finding ways to help the victims.
Specifically, AB 620 provides a way for a court to vacate a prostitution conviction for victims who were charged with prostitution while they were being held or coerced by a trafficker. This means that victims who survive human trafficking would not have a criminal conviction impeding their quest to start a new life.
AB 620 also makes the state definition of trafficking more consistent with federal law, making it more difficult for traffickers to use a confusing state law to evade prosecution. It prevents children who have been victims of human trafficking from being prosecuted for prostitution.
Proponents of the bill argue that if children are not able to legally consent to a sexual act, they should not be prosecuted for them. To further protect children, the bill expands the definition of a commercial sex act.
Human trafficking is a big business. Worldwide, traffickers are estimated to make over $32 billion in profits each year. In the United States, sex traffickers can make more than $500,000 by exploiting three victims and labor traffickers can make between $50,000 and $100,000 on each victim.
Assembly Bill 620 includes an asset forfeiture provision to go after human traffickers in a way that will serve as a deterrent to future criminal activity. Specifically, the bill modifies the forfeiture statutes to allow for seizure of assets used in the course of or intended for use in the course of human trafficking.