January 11th was National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, where people recognize and spread awareness about the issues of all forms of human trafficking.
It’s the crime that hides in plain sight.
While the prevalence of human trafficking in Central Wisconsin is difficult to estimate since it is often underreported, it can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality.
According to the Office of Victims of Crime each year an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people get trafficked and sold into the sex trade, and 200,000 American children are at risk for trafficking.
Police say rural areas, especially ones along major thoroughfares like here, are targeted for their easy transportation to big cities.
Sergeant Harmanjot Chahal of the Wisconsin state patrol said, “The interstate is a pipeline that in connecting Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities, and that’s just one aspect we know this happens on the streets.”
With many places closed down and stay at home orders in place, it can be difficult for some people to see the signs of trafficking.
Wausau police officer Sarah Bedish said, “Although we are in a pandemic doesn’t mean these issues stop. Traffickers need to make their money, so they get creative. “
Advocates say, it’s crucial for people to learn the signs and understand that anyone can be a victim, and if you see something online that can correlate to the idea of trafficking, you are urged to quickly report it.
“Don’t interact, try not to intervene because its a very dangerous crime that happening and you need to be safe, and the victims need to stay safe,” Bedish said.
Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life.
Bedish says the best thing you can do is be a smart and safe observer.
“Write down license plates, car makes and models, faces, and pay attention, remember details,” she said.
Contact the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “help” or “info” to 233733.