The League of Women Voters of Appleton offered a forum on sex trafficking in February. More than 100 people came to Fox Valley Technical College’s Bordini Center and most were probably shocked to hear how big of a problem this is locally.
Appleton Police Lt. Steve Elliot gave a powerful talk on the how this type of crime happens locally. There is a team of six police officers in the Street Crime Unit – responsible for drug, gang and prostitution violations — and he said they could spend full-time every day of the week just on sex trafficking cases and still not begin to address the need. Here are the highlights:
- To some extent, the Internet has caused this increase. No longer do people stand on streets. Instead they solicit through online ads. Lt. Elliot said the police track at least six to 12 new online ads on any given day.
- The average age of the girls going into prostitution locally is 12 to 14 years old. I found that mind-boggling.
- Most prostitutes are coerced into service by the pimp. Usually they are vulnerable. A very high percentage were in the Child Protection system when they were younger. The pimp woos them with kind words or material goods and then forges some sort of invisible “chains” by getting them drunk and then videotaping them having sex, getting them addicted to drugs, isolating them or threatening their children or family.
- Locally, we deal with these victims in a positive way. When a prostitute is arrested, she is provided with advocacy, counseling and housing support. If they are cooperative, the charges may be removed from their record, which allows them to move on to a different life and get a job.
- All john and pimp arrests are made public. Those under 17 are sent to Youth and Family Services.
- The person buying sex is required to attend the “John School.” It teaches johns the social consequences of their behavior and offers help if a sex addiction is involved. Outagamie County has the only John School in the state and it is considered a model.
- Other speakers identified the risk factors as neighbors no longer knowing what others are doing, poverty, serious family conflict and runaways from foster care. The last one carries some shocking numbers. As high as 82% of these runaways become victims, and last year Outagamie County had 943 reported runaways.
WHAT’S BEING DONE?
Outagamie County has developed a collaborative task force — led by the Sexual Assault Crisis Center and funded, in part, by grants of $100,500 from the Community Foundation’s Basic Needs Giving Partnership and $5,000 from our Evelyn and Arthur Lierman Children’s Fund. The Basic Needs Giving Partnership is funded by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs within the Community Foundation from the annual U.S. Venture Open golf outing, with matching money from the J. J. Keller Foundation and other contributors.
Over the next couple of years, we will see more effort to reach the victims sooner, better tracking of the numbers of girls involved and more community education. There may even be a safe house for potential victims.
We are fortunate that a nationally known consultant on this work lives locally and is working with the task force.
We all need to become aware how this increasing problem threatens the very fabric of our community.
CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION
Our Community Conversations radio program on 91.1 FM The Avenue is addressing sex trafficking in March. Tune in Saturdays at 7 a.m. and again Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Listen online anytime to previously aired Commuity Conversations at AvenueRadio.com/cc. Three of the four shows will include parts of a community panel discussion on the topic sponsored by the Appleton League of Women Voters.
- March 7 & 11: Understanding Human Trafficking in the Fox Valley: An Overview – Guest Caroline Lasecki, Sexual Assault Crisis Center
- March 14 & 18: Understanding Human Trafficking in the Fox Valley: The Crime
- March 21 & 25: Understanding Human Trafficking in the Fox Valley: The Victims
- March 28 & April 1: Understanding Human Trafficking in the Fox Valley: The Community