Sister tells parish group that human trafficking is widespread in state

GREEN BAY — A presentation entitled “The Truth about Human Trafficking” delivered as advertised. A New Genesis Sr. Carol Hannen, the key presenter, gave the hard facts to the more than 60 in attendance Oct. 28 at St. Joseph Church on Green Bay’s west side.

Among the startling numbers shared by Sr. Carol are:

  • 80 percent of human trafficking is sex trafficking
  • 10 percent is human organs such as kidneys, corneas and even aborted fetal parts
  • 10 percent is labor trafficking forcing and coercing people into unpaid labor and abuse
  • 1 in 5 boys is abused by aged 18
  • 1 in 4 girls is abused by age 18

Sr. Carol represents 5-stones, a non-profit organization formed six years ago, for the primary purpose of raising awareness of the dangers and magnitude of sex trafficking in Wisconsin.

People she meets can’t believe sex trafficking exists in Wisconsin, yet numbers show this state to be the third worst in the nation.

“Milwaukee is the pimp capital,” said Sr. Carol. “People don’t expect it in Wisconsin because people here are so trusting. Our kids are not street smart.”

Traffickers, or pimps, prey on young people ages 12 to 14 with certain characteristics: troubled kids from troubled families with deaths and divorces; runaways; those with low self-esteem; children living in foster care and chafing at the rules. They succumb to the pimp masquerading as a boyfriend or girlfriend, buying lavish gifts of clothing, jewelry; offering compliments. Gradually the pimps make demands for sex and then the young people are trapped and feel they can’t go home again due to the shame.

Kids in school are vulnerable to unsupervised Internet access and texting, which may turn to sexting. This, in turn, is used by pimps as a form of control.

There are certain danger zones to avoid across the state: busy highway corridors and their off-ramps; sports events; festivals; motels and shopping malls; wherever young people may congregate.

There are also signs families and friends should look for in young people: absenteeism and tardiness from school; lying about their whereabouts; unexplained injuries; suicidal ideation; new tattoos, especially on the neck, a sort of brand promoted by pimps.

Relationship red flags may fly: an older boyfriend; dropping old friends for new, less savory ones; isolated from family and friends; leaving with no identification cards or phone.

Sr. Carol said there are steps concerned people may take. The first is prayer, then getting informed about the situation and reaching out to experts such as the police and groups such as Shared Hope and the Polaris Project, or an online resource, www.traffickingresourcecmte.org.

She noted that Wisconsin is behind in offering help because it does not have a recovery house. She’s hoping groups will band together to fund one. It’s also difficult to get into the schools to spread the message.

Two students in attendance were shocked at the prevalence so close to home. Nada Holford, 16, and Megan Leisgang, 17, both faith formation students who attend Green Bay West High School, agreed the program “raised awareness.”

“I didn’t realize it was a big problem in our area. I was shocked,” Leisgang said. “We need to be careful of who our friends are on Facebook.”

“I was surprised,” Holford added. “It definitely raised more self-awareness.”

Parish minister Andy Huettle said he thought it was important to get the subject out in the open.

“We needed to plant that seed and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, it will grow,” he said.

Becky Van Kauwenberg, Quad Parishes Faith Formation administrator, said she was hesitant to take on the topic at first … “but then it came up in the news with arrests (of traffickers) and Pope Francis introduced it.”

Pope Francis recently called for the faithful to “combat all forms of slavery” because “millions of people today are deprived of freedom.”

Sr. Carol showed a film, “Chosen,” that illustrates the methods of entrapment. She cited examples as near as Darboy and Appleton: an 18-month-old baby boy sold by his father for $250 for half an hour; three young girls from Darboy victimized.

Meeting with people and making presentations is what really gets the message out, said Sr. Carol.

“The kids will tell their classmates, the seniors will tell their kids and grandchildren,” she said. “These are real stories about real people in our town.”