Human Trafficking: A look inside “The Life” - Journey to recovery

A look at a survivor's journey to recovery and what is being done to stop trafficking
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 12:28 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 30, 2022 at 10:37 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Throughout our series, Human Trafficking: A Look Inside ‘The Life’, a survivor bravely shared her story with Action 2 News viewers to bring awareness to a serious issue in Wisconsin. However, Jane, says public awareness in only the first step to combating human trafficking.

“I’m officially out of the life, which that didn’t happen until probably a year ago and even more so recently,” said Jane.

She’s in her 20s now, living the life she didn’t think she could have--one in where she’s found her identity.

She’s not a victim. Jane is a survivor.

“It’s not this girl who is this toy, but more of a girl who can make a difference and shine the light into darkness,” said Jane.

She wants change. Action 2 News asked Jane if she believes the system failed her.

“I would 100% say that the system is broken,” she answered.

From foster home to foster home, Jane struggled to find support.

“We need to be doing more as a state to protect these kids,” said Det. Brandon Kehoe with the Sheboygan Police Department.

Action 2 News took Jane’s plea to the state capitol.

“What are you trying to do to make sure survivors aren’t being failed?” asked Action 2 News Reporter, Casey Torres.

“There’s been a real change in our understanding of human trafficking over the years. I think if you would look back 20 or 30 years ago, you would see a lot of people who were charged with prostitution offenses. What we now recognize, I think much more accurately, is that in many cases people who were being charged in those cases are themselves survivors of human trafficking,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul.

He said there’s been a shift to a ‘victim centric’ approach when handling investigation on human trafficking to hold perpetrators accountable and offer victims assistance from agencies partnered with law enforcement.

Still, he said more must be done.

“One of the challenges with human trafficking is, it’s often hidden and so often people avoid detection and unfortunately, there’s not as much reporting as we would like to see so the scale of it is hard to know,” said Kaul.

The uniform crime reporting data on the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s website shows human trafficking offenses from 2019 to 2021 went down. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean human trafficking is slowing down. It could be that reports of the crime are dropping.

But when they are reported, a victim’s fear of running into the law can slow justice down.

“They can be difficult cases to prosecute and the reason is this, as we talked about, human traffickers try to take people being isolated and often, when an arrest is initially made--a victim may not want to be cooperative with law enforcement,” said Kaul.

Kaul said the state launched an anti-human trafficking task force where law enforcement agencies are better connected, victims receive resources and traffickers are held accountable.

He said he’s working with agencies to stop cases from slipping through the cracks by supporting the Safe Harbor Bill which would prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from being charged with prostitution. It’s received bipartisan support for several years but has yet to be passed.

Back in Sheboygan, the human trafficking task force is panning to draft up a piece of legislation aimed at preventing what they call a gateway to trafficking.

“I screen the runaway referrals for every runaway in the county. I get the police report for that, and I screen those. So when I look at those cases or I’m looking at my cases, I’m looking for the same type of indicators. A lot of those are their drug use. They’re running away, and their motivation behind their running away and also their trauma history,” said Ariel Ludlum, a Youth Justice Intake Worker.

“If we have a child that’s running away repeatedly, they’re automatically at risk,” said Beth Heilman, an Intake Worker with Child Protective Services.

The task force wants harboring a missing juvenile to be a crime in Wisconsin. Kehoe said it’s only an ordinance violation which limits what law enforcement can do if a runaway ends up in a dangerous home where human trafficking could already be happening.

“I think that’s how we disrupt things, by you know, putting so much energy into prevention and looking at who we see as potential victims now in our community that aren’t victims yet but certainly are going that way,” said Kehoe.

“Just being proactive and starting to invest in these people before someone else is filling in the gap, because I promise you pimps, that’s where they’re coming from. They’re filling in the gap of where people need help,” said Jane.

She wants anyone in the same darkness she once lived in to remember that light breaks through.

“Know that there are people that love you. There is a creator that loves you. And that if you need any sort of help, that it is out there and I would encourage you to be bold and willing to talk about it,” said Jane. “And I just want to encourage and have prayer over those people that aren’t quite there yet.”

Watch parts 1 and 2 of our special report:

Human Trafficking: A look inside “The Life”

A survivor and an investigator give eye-opening details about how prevalent human trafficking is, even in our communities

Human Trafficking: A look inside “The Life” - Jane’s story

Jane lost hope of escaping or being rescued. Years of manipulation led her to believe her only way out was death.