#minorsextrafficking | La Crosse’s Jill Billings continues push to protect sex trafficked minors from criminal prosecution

Bills has proposed Safe Harbor Bill since 2015; says she won’t give up on protection for child victims of sex trafficking

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – A La Crosse area lawmaker said she is pushing to protect child victims of sex trafficking from further harm. The “Safe Harbor” bill would prevent kids from being criminally prosecuted.

Under current Wisconsin law, district attorneys can charge a minor with prostitution. Supporters say it’s easier to keep track of these children within the criminal justice system. However, state Rep. Jill Billings says a criminal record casts a shadow that follows them as adults.

Sex trafficking affects people all around the nation and close to home. Children are a common target.

“Children are being sold for sex in all 72 counties,” Billings said.

Wisconsin Rep. Jill Billings has coauthored bills aimed to protect children from criminal prosecution.

“Every year it gets a little further, but we haven’t been able to bring it across the finish line yet.

“The child is a victim, not a criminal,” Billings said.

However, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke tells News 8 Now he does not charge minors with a crime. It’s one reason New Horizons director Ann Kappauf said La Crosse is a fortunate community.

“He really understands domestic violence and sexual assault and trafficking,” Billings said.

The average age of a child forced into sex trafficking is 13 years old. Many are sold into the industry to the highest bidder. Others are traded for much less.

“Youth might be in a dating relationship, and their partner will prostitute them out for cigarettes and beer,” Kappauf said.

Kappauf said these children face manipulation and often don’t understand they’re sex trafficking victims.

“They’re threatened,” Kappauf said. “They’re coerced and made to believe that no one else loves them; no one cares for them.”

This is the reason Billings said she’ll stand behind her bill until it becomes Wisconsin law.

“I will never give up on this bill. I’ve talked to too many kids who have been victims of this crime,” Billings said.

Kappauf said children in their early teenage years are trusting individuals. That is why she said it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s online activity and their smartphones.

Several other states including Minnesota already have safe harbor laws in place.

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