FILE - Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Few human trafficking crimes are being reported in Wisconsin. 

The latest report from the state's Department of Justice (DOJ) says police departments and sheriff's offices across almost all of Wisconsin reported only 66 human trafficking cases in 2018. But how human trafficking laws are written in Wisconsin and on a national level could be one reason why the numbers are as low as they are. 

The report from the DOJ was released Thursday. It details human trafficking and prostitution cases, and looks at how law enforcement agencies across the state handle them. 

In 2018, authorities entered 66 human trafficking cases into local law enforcement records management systems. They entered another 35 prostitution cases. 

By comparison, those same authorities entered 118 incidents of human trafficking into local law enforcement records management systems between 2014 and 2017. The report notes that an additional 139 incidents were entered as either prostitution or human trafficking.

What's the difference between human trafficking and prostitution? Sometimes it comes down to the law that officers or deputies use to classify the crime. 

"The Wisconsin Department of Justice consistently trains that a minor engaged in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking by definition," the report states. "However, Wisconsin law currently includes a state offense of prostitution with which minors can be charged. The result is that even though the question of choice or consent should be of little value in evaluating the proper response when a minor trades sex for something of value, the consideration does indeed impact arrest and charging offenses in some jurisdictions."

The report notes that sex trafficking and prostitution cases for adults "also present challenges."

"Adults involved in prostitution might or might not be victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking of adults involves force, fraud or coercion to force victims to engage in commercial sex. However, force, fraud and coercion take many forms and the presence of any of these elements is not always immediately apparent or reported by victims on first contact," the report adds. "Nonetheless, there is currently a legal distinction between adults who are prostituted through force, fraud or coercion and those who are not."

Attorney General Josh Kaul said it is important to remember that the report is based on responses from local police departments and sheriff's offices.

“This report will help improve understanding about how human trafficking is being addressed by law enforcement in Wisconsin,” Kaul said. “As the report shows, there has been an increased recognition of the prevalence of human trafficking. We must continue working to raise awareness about this terrible crime and investing in efforts to fight it.”

The biggest request from the authorities who contributed to the report is for more training. 

"Feedback from heads of agencies indicates a desire for more training opportunities to differentiate between prostitution and sex trafficking, as well as how to handle sex trafficking cases. These needs appear in responses to questions about operations, policy and data entering practices," the report said. 

Staff Reporter

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.