Human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry according to the International Labor Organization. It’s an issue impacting families around the world, but especially here in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Now U.S. Congressman Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) is proposing a federal law he hopes would reduce the problem.
Among the thousands of cars traveling along the I-94 corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago every day, traffickers are actively doing business.
“I don’t want to say I’ve had my head in the sand for years, but for a long time I never thought that this was a major issue in Southeast Wisconsin or Kenosha,” Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said.
It’s a reality that human trafficking is running rampant in the Greater Milwaukee region, impacting girls as young as 13 and women as old as 62.
On the local level, law enforcement and advocacy groups are working hard to fight the issue, but Steil feels more can be done at the federal level.
“We need to be going after the money,” Steil said.
He’s introduced a bill known as the “Exposing the Financing of Human Trafficking Act” to prevent traffickers from making profits off their victims.
“Hold countries accountable that turn a blind eye towards the illicit financing that is human trafficking,” Steil said.
Specifically, countries applying for foreign aid from the U.S. would have to submit a report that describes the work they’re doing to combat the “illicit financing of human trafficking,” by “investigating, preventing and prosecuting financial criminal activities” related to trafficking.
“These reports are going to tell us who’s doing the best job and who has work to do,” Steil said.
Founder of the nonprofit Fight to End Exploitation, Karri Hemmig said this could lead to a trickle down effect in our area.
“We could you know reduce the amount of victims being brought into this country from other countries,” Hemmig said.
However, most importantly, she feels it would start a greater conversation about what’s happening behind closed doors.
“Really talking about it, making people aware of it is absolutely the number one way to fight it,” Hemmig said.
The bill is receiving bipartisan support, so Steil remains hopeful it will pass and get signed into law before the end of the session.