Law enforcement officers in the Milwaukee area are participating in a training organized by the Convergence Resource Center to better address the issue of human trafficking. Dr. Stephany Powell, a sex exploitation expert and Director of Law Enforcement Training and Survivor Services at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, encouraged officers to adopt a victim-centered approach. She emphasized the importance of understanding that individuals involved in prostitution may not be there by choice. Powell’s insights were shared during Convergence’s 9th annual conference, The Epidemic and The Game, which aimed to find solutions to human trafficking by bringing together law enforcement, survivors, social workers, educators, and other community members.
Dr. Debbie Lassiter, Executive Director and Co-founder of Convergence, highlighted the pervasive nature of human trafficking and the need for collaborative efforts to combat it. She emphasized that no community is exempt from this issue, and human trafficking often does not conform to stereotypes. Lassiter explained that many survivors assisted by her non-profit were trafficked by classmates or family members during their high school years. In 2021, Wisconsin alone identified 95 human trafficking cases involving 166 victims, with 23 cases involving children.
Lassiter stressed the importance of community and law enforcement working together to support survivors and protect the wider community. She also emphasized the need for increased support, particularly in terms of housing, to help victims escape human trafficking. Powell added that building trust with victims is crucial for their involvement throughout the court process, leading to successful convictions. She advocated for a shift in law enforcement’s focus from prosecuting those involved in prostitution to targeting the buyers.
The training and discussions held at the conference aim to equip law enforcement with the necessary tools and understanding to effectively combat human trafficking. By adopting a victim-centered approach and fostering collaboration, officers in the Milwaukee area hope to make significant strides in addressing this pervasive crime.