Local agencies fight human trafficking in Rock County
Erica Marie Frey once sat outside a hotel late at night in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a friend who had spent years victimized by human trafficking.
“You don't know what you're looking for until you actually see it. We'd be in a parking stall and watch,” Frey said. “The girl would be in one room, and next door would be security, not to protect her but to be a lookout for the whole process.”
Human trafficking can often go undetected or is misunderstood.
Why don't they just run away? How do they get stuck in such a mess? That doesn't happen here, right?
The victims are physically controlled by captors and forced to stay in the ring. Often coming from poverty or broken homes, they're targeted by traffickers who exploit their emotional vulnerabilities.
And yes, it does happen here.
Frey, who helps lead the Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, and other local organizations are trying to raise awareness and provide resources for victims of human trafficking in the stateline region.
The task force is a newly formed operation and remains in the planning stages. It has partnered with several law enforcement agencies and local nonprofits such as Project 16:49 and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has prepared its own program over the past year. Called E3, the program hopes to “encourage, empower and energize” victims of human trafficking, Executive Director Pam Carper said.
The program will soon begin matching victims with mentors for weekly, one-on-one sessions. The counseling could liberate victims or prevent those vulnerable to being trafficked from getting trapped, she said.
“Ultimately, our intent is to help these youth make positive decisions, to not go down this path, to understand what was happening and make a decision to not follow the trafficker, to not get brought into that web they weave so carefully,” Carper said.
Once Frey's planning efforts become reality, she hopes to have a home set up for victims to stay with her. The Task Force would have a support network of police, psychologists and nurses, Frey said.
It can be jarring for people to realize Rock County is a hub for human trafficking victims. Though most of the county is quaint farmland, Interstate 90/39 is a transportation route for victims coming from other regions, Carper said.
It's difficult to find a statistical basis because human trafficking often goes unreported or law enforcement agencies record the crime differently, she said.
Wisconsin recently established the state Human Trafficking Bureau in the state Department of Justice, which should mean uniform reporting guidelines, more public awareness and more resources for victims.
Carper hopes E3 can offer those resources at a local level.
“The goal is to help them develop on a positive line in the social, emotional, behavioral aspects of their life,” Carper said. “We're not working on their educational component. We're helping them make good decisions and make positive decisions to move forward.”