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January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month

By Patrick Lynn

The state of Wisconsin has declared January as an awareness month for human trafficking; an often underreported crime, according to the Department of Justice.

The DOJ’s Human Trafficking Initiative is to make Wisconsin “inhospitable to human traffickers and to support victim-centered strategies and partnerships throughout the state.” According to a news release from the DOJ, sex trafficking in Wisconsin is difficult to estimate since it is often underreported, and it can happen in any community and victims can be of any age, race, gender, or nationality.

“Human trafficking is a crime that hides in plain sight. Often, it takes an astute police officer, hotel worker, or bystander to notice and speak up—and save a victim,” the news release read in part.

The state patrol works closely with the Wisconsin Department of Justice to provide enhanced and consistent training to law enforcement and private sector partners across the state. All of the officers within the state patrol—including cadets at the State Patrol Academy—receive training related to human trafficking.

The training covers the basic “indicators” of human trafficking—what types of things to look for, what questions to ask, and possible options for officers if they need to connect a victim with available social services.

“Many myths and misconceptions of human trafficking exist, WSP Capt. Travis Wanless of the North Central Region/Wausau Post said. “Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life.”

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is recognized each year on January 11. In recognition of this important day, the Blue Campaign hosts a social media campaign called #WearBlueDay. People are encouraged to post a photo wearing blue clothing along with the hashtag to call attention to this crime.

If you encounter a situation that you suspect is human trafficking, the WSP and DOJ advise you to not confront the suspect or alert the suspected victims. Additional tips follow:

  • Be a safe/smart observer.
  • Gather as much information as you safely can: Vehicle description; occupant descriptions; and license plate number
  • Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.
  • If there is an immediate danger, contact local law enforcement or 911.