Treatment vs. jail time: New bill aimed at helping sex trafficking victims break free

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — It’s one of Milwaukee’s darkest secrets: Women and children being trafficked for sex. Experts say it’s a lucrative business — and Milwaukee is a major hub. A tough new bill would make it easier for human trafficking victims to break free.

Last year, ten human trafficking victims between the ages of 13 and 17 were recovered in Milwaukee.

That’s believed to be only a fraction of the kids being sold for sex.

A new bill would make sure sex trafficking victims get treatment — instead of jail time.

“It is a huge issue in this city. We’re hearing that if you want to be a pimp, this is where they train them, if you will,” Debbie Zwicky said. Zwicky operates a safe haven for victims of trafficking on the Lad Lake campus.

She supports a federal bill that would give states incentives to establish “safe harbor laws.”

That would direct victims toward protective services — instead of prosecuting them.

“I think they have to overcome a lot.  I think we have to be mindful that they are young adolescent girls,” Zwicky said.

Nationally, human trafficking is a $9.5 billion industry. The average age of a child starting out is 13.

“They’re being trafficked and exploited sold and resold,” Congresswoman Gwen Moore said.

Moore introduced the bipartisan legislation which would also start a human trafficking hotline to connect victims with services and take tips.

“Many of us were shocked and stunned to see the 300 Nigerian girls sold into slavery, but we have 100,000 young people who are sold into human trafficking here in this country,” Moore said.

In Milwaukee, experts say the children targeted often come from broken homes or have mental health issues.

When victims try to leave, they are beaten and threatened.

If they do break free — the road to recovery is long.

“You have young adolescent girls who are just trying to figure out themselves and life and where they sit,” Zwicky said.

The bill just passed in the House of Representatives and is now heading to the U.S. Senate.

Republican Jim Sensenbrenner also supports it — saying our society needs to protect its most vulnerable.

Congresswoman Moore says there is a good chance it will end up on President Obama’s desk.

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