OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — Tuesday is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
The State Department estimates nearly 25 million adults and children are trapped in some form of human trafficking around the world including right here in Wisconsin.
According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, in Wisconsin, there were 97 human trafficking cases reported in 2020.
The vast majority of those cases were for sex trafficking.
And locally in Oshkosh, Damascus Road a nonprofit organization hosted a rally to help raise awareness for human trafficking.
“I deal with my trauma everyday,” said a woman at the rally.
For Jennifer Petersen, she’s grateful everyday for having escaped the direful situation she was once in.
“I’ve been using for about 13 years steady and I’m tired. And I don’t ever want to be in a position with men that things are done to me, or I owe debt or something,“ Petersen said.
Petersen is not only a human trafficking survivor, but now an advocate too.
“That is how I got involved into the sexual trafficking. I put myself in some bad situations because of my addictions and I still fight that every day and I’m proud to say that today I’m 112 days sober,” Petersen said.
As she works hard to turn her life around, Petersen is now standing on the streets of Oshkosh holding up signs and hoping to shed a light to what is often described as “modern-day slavery”.
And alongside Peterson stands another woman with a story of her own.
“I had been exploited by the sex industry when I was very young, when I was 18 years old,” said Samantha Martin.
Martin says she was scared.
Scared that nobody would ever understand everything she went through.
“That led me eventually to all my 20’s, I’m 32 now and that led me to severe drug addiction,” Martin said.
Leaders of the rally hoping to take the message from the streets of Oshkosh to the rest of Northeast Wisconsin.
“Damascus road has worked with 440 either survivors of human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation. So we definitely know that it’s happening in our area,“ said Terra Koslowski, Damascus Road Outreach Director.
“Unfortunately it does happen in many communities and I think that’s why its important to bring awareness to this topic because sometimes people don’t often realize it does happen in numerous cities,” said Officer Kate Mann, Oshkosh Police Department.
And despite the bitter cold temperatures, Petersen was out in full force ready to have her message heard.
“I’m fighting for my sobriety and I’m fighting for all the women today and if you’re involved, or any woman out here who is hurt or scared, reach out. There are hotlines, they’re women. Make a phone call, we’re here for you,” Petersen said.
Again, there is help out there if you or someone you know is caught up in human trafficking.
Just call 1- 888-373-7888.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.