Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors in Wisconsin: Improving Intervention and Prevention Efforts

Wisconsin Statutes on Child Sexual Exploitation (sex trafficking of a minor):

Sex Trafficking: Knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a child or attempting to do so for the purpose of a commercial sex act or sexually explicit performance. No force, fraud, or coercion is required for a conviction of child sex trafficking, as minors cannot legally consent to such activities.

Commercial Sex Acts: When anything of value is given, promised, or received directly or indirectly for something of value by any person

Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Wisconsin

Limited data is available on the scope of Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Wisconsin, but the research that does exist indicates that it is a pervasive problem, and that the actual number of victims is likely much higher than what preliminary studies have found.

• A 2007 study in Wisconsin identified 200 potential sex and labor trafficking victims; 75% were the victims of sexual exploitation and 15% were children.
• Trafficking happens across the state and in more than half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties
• In Milwaukee, 77 youth were identified as having been sex trafficked over a two-year period; 40% had open Child in Need of Protective Services (CHIPS) or Juvenile in Need of Protective Services (JIPS) cases.
• A study in Dane County estimated that up to 90% of girls at the Juvenile Detention Center have been sexually exploited

When training is provided to law enforcement and service providers, there are often dramatic increases in the numbers of potential victims identified.

Children and Youth at High Risk of Exploitation

• Children with a history of involvement in the child welfare system
• Youth living in group homes or residential treatment facilities
• LGBTQ-identifying youth
• Runaway and homeless youth
• Children living in homes with drug use, maltreatment, or extreme poverty
• Youth with a history of child sexual abuse

Examples of Identified Patterns of Victimization in Wisconsin

• Runaway or homeless youth trading sexual activities for basic needs, particularly housing
• Parents “selling” children for drugs
• Adult men prostituting adolescent girls in their home
• Childhood exposure to prostitution

Improving Interventions and Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Children in Wisconsin

• Provide comprehensive training for law enforcement, employees in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, and school staff

The Illinois Department of Children and Families found that the number of staff members who believed they had encountered a victim increased by 200% following a comprehensive training program. In Wisconsin, when law enforcement and domestic violence service providers were given the signs of human trafficking, the number of potential victims identified increased 350%. Providing comprehensive training is the foundation of improved community and statewide responses.

• Create screening procedures in initial intake in child welfare and juveniles justice that can help identify potential victims at first contact with a system

Given the high proportion of youth with juvenile justice or child welfare system involvement at risk for exploitation, it is critical that workers be able to quickly and accurately identify potential victims and link them with appropriate services.

• Ensure that youth are treated as victims of a crime, not as criminals themselves

Limited training and procedures for identifying sexually exploited children and youth often lead to the criminalization of victims for other offenses, such as loitering, truancy, or running away from home. Additionally, many youth are arrested to prevent them from returning to perpetrators and to provide them with services. Treating victims effectively requires both accurate identification and appropriate services for recovery.

• Increase the availability of treatment and resources for CSE victims and their families

After agencies and law enforcement received training, they often felt somewhat helpless in their ability to respond and serve the victim and provide any identified social supports. Very few resources are available, and there is a lack of knowledge of the resources that do exist.

• Improve data collection on the number of commercially sexually exploited youth

There is currently no statewide data collection system or method for tracking the number of sexually exploited youth counties and service providers encounter. Improved data collection can help better estimate the scope of child sexual exploitation and enhance advocacy efforts for more resources.

(2013). Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department . Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission .

Office of Justice Assistance.(2008). Hidden in Plain Sight: A Baseline Survey of Human Trafficking in Wisconsin .

Phelps, S. R., & Miyasaki, J. (2011). Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: Dane County Needs Assesssment . Project Respect.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth and Families. (2013). Guidance to States and Services on Addressing Human Trafficking.