Nearly 100 recent incidents of sex trafficking involving children have been confirmed in Wisconsin, state officials say.
Between June 1, 2017, and Aug. 31, 2018, child welfare workers confirmed 99 incidents of children and youth sex trafficking statewide, the state Department of Children and Families said Tuesday.
The actual number of child sex trafficking cases is believed to be far higher, as officials acknowledge that many incidents are not reported.
“Human trafficking is affecting children in our biggest cities and our smallest towns,” said Emilie Amundson, who has been picked by Gov. Tony Evers to lead the agency. “Yet many in our communities don’t even know a problem exists.”
Milwaukee is widely believed to be a hub for sex trafficking. A report released last year estimated that 340 young adults and children were victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee in a four-year period, from Jan. 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2016.
RELATED: Milwaukee as a ‘mecca for sex trafficking’: New report sheds light on scope of problem
RELATED: Kids missing from group homes a common thread in Milwaukee sex trafficking
Another study released last month found that many sex trafficking victims in Milwaukee have a history of being reported missing from group homes. Most also have experienced significant trauma — such as witnessing or being the victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or child abuse — by age 13 or younger, the report found.
But Wisconsin officials acknowledge that trafficking is a statewide problem.
Last year, the state Department of Children and Families launched a “WI, We Need to Talk” campaign to raise awareness about youth sex trafficking, which focused on recognizing warning signs and reporting suspected crimes.
RELATED: Youth sex trafficking is a bigger problem in Wisconsin than you might think. Here’s what parents need to know.
Also in 2018, officials with the state Department of Justice trained about 5,000 people —including hotel and casino employees, truck drivers and mall security — on recognizing human trafficking.
“The Wisconsin Department of Justice is committed to fighting human trafficking by working with local law enforcement to dismantle trafficking networks and by supplying policymakers with better information,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement.
A bipartisan bill being considered by state lawmakers aims to increase the role truckers play in combating human trafficking. Under the Assembly bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) and Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), commercial driver education courses offered by technical colleges or licensed private driver schools would be required to provide instruction on spotting and preventing trafficking.
“As the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways, truckers are in a unique position to make a difference in identifying and preventing human traffickers who exploit our transportation system through this heinous crime,” they wrote in their Jan. 8 co-sponsorship memo.