Putting a stop to human trafficking in Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Putting a stop to human trafficking in Wisconsin


Madison (WKOW) -- Since September, the state's new human trafficking bureau has investigated 23 cases and put 15 traffickers behind bars. Now, a victim of one case is sharing her story.

Tiffany, from south-central Wisconsin, met Maurice Withers on Facebook, when she was trying to find a new home for her dog. They developed a relationship at a vulnerable time in her life; right after she got out of an abusive relationship. He took advantage, forcing her into a life of prostitution across Wisconsin and the U.S.

"I was hard-working. I was a good mom. I never in a million years would have thought that, from one conversation, that it could have led to something like this," said Tiffany.

The human trafficking lasted half a year, before Tiffany took a bold step to run away from him and get help. 

"We feel judged. We were beat down for so long and told that we were nothing. That it makes it hard to finally realize we still are somebody. This doesn't make who we are," she said.

After she was beaten by her trafficker, Tiffany asked a 'John' to drive her across the state. He agreed and she checked into a local center providing services to victims. 

Brave survivors like Tiffany are helping officials better identify the scope and problem of human trafficking in our state as they work to put an end to the underground crime.

"They're scarred, mentally and physically, from the abuse and it's really tough to talk to them. It's up to them if they want to talk to us, so we try to give them as much help as we possibly can," said Ben Poller, who leads the Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Bureau. "We were fortunate enough to have a lot of victims come forward."

Poller's team has rescued 30 adult and four child victims of human trafficking since launching the bureau, working with local and federal law enforcement agencies to collect evidence in each case. It's a collaboration to tackle the problem that has been so evasive for officials in the past. 

"With this statewide approach and coordination, now [the traffickers] can't evade us by just moving place to place, we're going to follow them," said Attorney General Brad Schimel. 

The state's plan to end human trafficking also includes working closely with the hospitality industry, because hotel and motel rooms are often the venues for crimes. Authorities say they'll distribute a webinar to more than 2-thousand hotels later this month. The state is also working with shopping malls, bus companies and truckers to help identify signs of trafficking.

They're exposing the crime with help from survivors like Tiffany, who wants to continue educating people so they don't fall into the same trap she did. Her trafficker has been convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison, a step that helped her recover. Now, she's hoping to get her degree in social work and criminal justice and provide victims the same kind of help that kept her going. 

"There's a positive that can be made out of it and if I can save my daughters, or multiple people's daughters, then that's definitely something I want to do," she said.

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