It's the second largest criminal activity in the world. Human trafficking is being called modern day slavery. The Super Bowl is called the single biggest sex trafficking event in the world. Traffickers bring victims into host cities specifically for the super bowl game. Last year, police arrested about 750 people in nationwide sex-trafficking sting operations ahead of last year's super bowl. The largest sweep since operations began 13 years earlier.
1.5 million people in the U.S. are victims of trafficking, the majority are children, according to a U.S. Senate report published last year. You may think it doesn't happen locally, and while it doesn't happen here *often, it is still present. Local groups are trying to make the community aware of the issue and make sure your child doesn't end up a human trafficking victim.
"It's a brainwashing that happens there's a reason traffickers go after children because they can brainwash them and that's what was happening to me. Even though I hated what I was doing I was doing it for him. Because it pleased him because I believed I was damaged goods but I was good for one thing I was good for that," explained Jenny, a trafficking victim from Minneapolis. To raise awareness of the issue the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration interviewed survivors, former pimps and former johns.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says human trafficking forcefully converts a human being to a commodity through force, fraud, or coercion. It's highly profitable and a violation of human rights. Traffickers use different ways to force people into this. Although it's a hidden crime it's something that happens in both big and small cities.
"It happens everywhere it's just a matter of if law enforcement is aware of it," said Holmen Police Investigator Crystal Sedevie.
Between September 2017 and Jan. 1, 2018, The Wisconsin Department of Justice Human Trafficking Bureau arrested 15 sex traffickers. They rescued 30 adults and 4 children.
Unlike drugs, people are a product that can be used over and over again. "When I was 14 I left home I was angry with my mother and within 48 hours I met trafficker," said Jenny.
"Everybody liked him people shook his hand everywhere we went he brought me into bars I felt all grown up and I didn't have to listen to my mom anymore. He reminded me of my dad, he was a lot of fun and he made me feel like the most important person in the world when I was with him," she added.
"The person that trafficking has such a hold over them," said Investigator Sedevie.
"And that was the way I was able to keep women with force because these women were also utilizing that on each other. I would give direction sometimes a beat down to the bottom that she would send it through the other girls so that fear itself it was the persuasion to keep them trapped cornered," explained a former pimp.
The trafficker may meet their victim in person or online. "If you go on to personal ads online back page, Craigslist, they're their, new apps every week people hooking up and often times illegal activities spill over on to that," said Investigator Sedevie.
Activities that the La Crosse community doesn't want here so institutions like Mayo Clinic Health System are doing their part to get people to realize this is an issue. "It will take a recognition by everybody in society that this is an issue," said Mayo Clinic Health System Perinatal Social Worker Phillip Nielsen.
Medical professionals at Mayo said almost 90% of people being trafficked visit a hospital emergency room. "What that tells me is we're seeing them, are we asking the right questions?" asked Nielsen.
Those are similar questions a new local task force also wants to address. "We have to understand why is there a demand," said Pat Ruda, a member of the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Day Slavery.
"I was just at conference in the Wisconsin Dells area they were talking about in one of the breakout sessions how there was trafficking going on in one of the water parks there so see this is something to consider for all people," said Ruda.
The Task Force released a survey of local resources you can find that by clicking here.
If you or someone you know may be a victim of trafficking you can call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You can also report it online at the website https://www.ice.gov/webform/hsi-tip-form.
The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are holding a prayer service Tuesday, February 6th from 4 to 4:30 p.m. at the Mary of the Angels Chapel on the FSPA campus. You can join them in prayer for victims of human trafficking.