It can happen in Internet chat rooms, private parties and even at home.
One of the major problems with human trafficking, the term used to describe the physical and sexual exploitation of women and children for financial gain, is that people don’t often see it happening, said Alan Krok, a retired Chicago Police Department detective and member of the Salvation Army’s PROMISE task force.
Krok was one of the guest lecturers Friday during a day-long convention on human trafficking at Western Technical College’s Lunda Center, the first event organized by a new La Crosse area task force to confront what its members call “modern slavery.”
“It’s underground,” Krok said. “People don’t see it. People don’t complain, but you come to something like this and you hear about it.”
The event, Stopping the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, was sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, the La Crosse Community Foundation June Kjome Justice and Peace Fund and other local groups.
Another sponsor of the seminar was the La Crosse Task Force to Eradicate Modern Slavery. Consisting of representatives from local universities, the La Crosse Police Department, FSPA and other groups, task force organizers hope to draw attention to sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children in the La Crosse area.
The group also aims to increase the amount of data available about local trends, said Sister Marlene Weisenbeck.
Weisenbeck helped form the task force after studying human trafficking in 2012 as one of about 20 appointees to President Barack Obama’s advisory council for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships. Her term on the council ended in December.
“Slavery has not ended in our country,” Weisenbeck said. “Our sense of moral outrage was heightened by our experience.”
Human trafficking brings in global profits of $31.7 billion, according to the United Nations. About 2.5 million people internationally are estimated to be victims of forced labor, including sex trafficking.
More than 300,000 children in the U.S. were at risk of commercial sexual exploitation, according to a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study. The average age of entry into commercial sexual exploitation of children is 11 to 13 for boys, 12 to 14 for girls, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Many people immediately look to law enforcement when they realize the scope of the problem, but investigating child sex trafficking is expensive, time-consuming work, Krok said.
“These are the hardest types of cases,” Krok said.
Most regular cases have a victim and a bad guy, but with child sex trafficking, children are manipulated into thinking police can’t help, Krok said.
“In these cases, the victim doesn’t really realize they’re a victim,” Krok said. “The exploiter’s teaching them that the police are the bad guys.”
Krok commended La Crosse area organizers for assembling a task force.
Because of her involvement on the White House council, Weisenbeck suggested an action for mission to her fellow FSPA sisters, and decided to convene a task force.
“It started with the FSPA,” Weisenbeck said.
Sarah Migas, a member of the local task force, is an instructor in Winona State University’s child advocacy studies department. Migas worked in the Chicago attorney general’s office until last year, in the high-tech crimes bureau and the Internet Crimes Against Children task force.
She hopes the convention Friday leads to future action.
“Really mobilize the community and start taking the next step together, you know, not in silos,” Migas said. “Get that basic common dialog and understanding of the issue.”