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Wausau advocates and investigators educate educators about what human trafficking looks like here

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 7:19 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The most recent data shows Wisconsin had about 100 cases of human trafficking in 2019, but that is just what law enforcement knew about and categorized as such. Some of those cases happened in Marathon County. With kids spending most of their day in school, investigators and victim advocates are helping educators know the signs.

“It’s the act of exerting control over another person by means of force, fraud, coercion,” Brenda Bayer, the human trafficking program advocate at the Women’s Community said to an auditorium of teachers at Wausau West High School on Friday. She said the most common ages of sex trafficking victims is people 12-14 years old.

“That’s surprising and disturbing and infuriating. Definitely, something we as middle school educators have to be focused on and at least have the background knowledge in,” Matthew Raduechel, one of John Muir Middle School’s associate principals noted.

That is exactly why the Wausau School District brought in people who handle those cases head-on in the community.

“One-hundred percent of the victims and survivors that I have dealt with have had PTSD,” Bayer explained as she showed a list of signs for people to look for in a trafficked victim. She has three victims on her caseload.

Officer Sarah Bedish with the Wausau Police Department included about a half dozen real victims’ scenarios in her presentation, including one about a 15-year-old.

“She was at a doctor’s appointment sitting next to her foster mom sending pictures to her sugar daddy and her mom, foster mom, is sitting right next to her. You know why I knew that? Because she had to send a picture verifying her identity -- so she sent an actual picture of herself -- and I could see her mom’s elbow next to her.”

The trafficking in north central Wisconsin is largely happening online.

“They’re all gravitating a lot to Snapchat, Kik, TikTok, those kinds of applications,” explained Det. Dan McGhee, a forensic analyst with the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re running into a lot of X-Box because it’s live.”

“It was good that questions were asked about technology and the pervasiveness of how technology is contributing to this,” Raduechel said. “And we just need to be mindful of that in the education world of how our needs to use technology may contribute or how we can prevent it on our end as well.”

Oftentimes, especially with children, victims do not know they are being trafficked because they think they are led to believe they are making the choices willingly and take responsibility for those actions or for being in that relationship.

To learn more about human trafficking, click here. If you or someone you know is in a situation like this, you can connect with a counselor, law enforcement, or advocates like at the Women’s Community. The Women’s Community has a 24-hour confidential hotline: 715-842-7323 or 1-888-665-1234. You can also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is also available 24/7 at 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233-733.

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