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Human trafficking cases rise in Wisconsin compared to other states

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WISCONSIN, (WAOW)-- In 2020, the nation's human trafficking cases went down, but Wisconsin's went up. State Attorney General Josh Kaul said trafficking in all forms is something that needs to be eradicated.

"It's awful that this crime continues to exist. I mean human trafficking is one person exploiting another person for their own financial gain and whether that is for sex trafficking or labor trafficking, these are really despicable crimes," Kaul said.

In 2020, the Human Trafficking Institutereported that six cases of human trafficking went to court in Wisconsin, of those five were for sex trafficking while the other was for forced labor.

"The one kind of surprise was the upward trend. Nationwide, there was an upward trend of cases being filed. There had been two years of decline before that. As far as Wisconsin goes, you all actually had a steady rise in cases even while the national numbers were decreasing," said Alyssa Wheeler, Associate Legal Council at the Human Trafficking Institute.

In Wausau, officials with The Women's Community said sex trafficking is often misrepresented, but can be found everywhere.

"Human trafficking definitely does happen in our community. Typically it's an online recruitment. A young person will meet someone online and that person will in a sense, sell the dream of a better life, or love and acceptance, something that a young person is missing or looking for in their life," said Brenda Bayer, Human Trafficking Program Advocate at The Women's Community.

Officials also said forced labor is often hard to spot but is just as dangerous.

"Because of what we see here and the demographics and the agricultural work, I see groups of people that might be victimized," said Andrea Oyuela, Latinx Program Coordinator and Human Trafficking Advocate at The Women's Community.

Signs of human trafficking include changes in behavior, if someone seems more withdrawn than normal, their personality changes, they are receiving unexplained nice gifts, or seem afraid to speak. People being trafficked may be afraid of trying to leave or are unable to do so.

"Those are signs where you could change the life of somebody just by saying how are you doing or give them a card with a phone number where they can reach for help," Oyuela said.

The Women's Community said people being trafficked for sex or labor may not look in distress at first glance but paying attention to red flags could save a life.