BELOIT - Over 200 supporters of the Stateline Community Foundation's Women's Fund gathered at the Beloit Club Thursday to hear an update on the state of women and girls in Beloit and what officials at the state level are doing to combat human trafficking.
The banquet saw multiple presenters, with attendees hearing from Rock County Big Brothers/Sister Coordinator Pam Carper, Beloit College Assistant Professor Kendra Schiffman and keynote speaker Joy Ippolito, Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator with the Wisconsin Department of Children & Families.
The Women's Fund was started in 2012, and has sought to improve the lives of women and girls across Rock County. The group releases periodic reports on the state of women in Beloit and the county, with Schiffman presenting research for this year's report.
During her speech, Ippolito commended the Stateline Community Foundation, the Women's Fund and the Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force for the efforts, adding that collaboration at the state and local levels was key to understanding and solving the issue.
"When I say that this is a cross-system collaboration, I truly do mean that," Ippolito said. "In all the places I have been, I have never seen this many different people coming together to work around a topic."
Crimes against women took center stage, with Schiffman's report cataloging sex trafficking, sexual violence and domestic violence in Beloit and Rock County with data from most recent reported tallies.
• Domestic violence
From 2014 to last year, 1,166 domestic violence incidents were reported to the Beloit Police Department, with 463 reports coming in 2016, according to the Beloit College report.
• Sexual assault
In the last three years, 523 reports of sexual assaults were handled by the Beloit Police Department, with most victims in their mid-teens and youths ages 12 to 17 making up 43 percent of all reported sexual assault and rape victims.
• Sex trafficking
Schiffman partnered with Project 16:49 to understand the scope of sex trafficking in Beloit, with the organization noting over 1 in 4 of all women and girls helped in Rock County have been subject to human trafficking. Of residents at the Robin House since 2014, 26 women, or 60 percent, said they were subject to sex trafficking practices, according to the data.
Ippolito acknowledged maltreatment of women is a statewide problem, and presented ways the state is looking to address the issue.
Ippolito was hired as part of a 2015 state initiative to develop an organized, evidence-based task force to begin to implement legislation and policies to combat trafficking and violence against women.
The three-phase plan recently completed its first effort, establishing a series of goals focused on ways of eliminating trafficking of minors in the state, Ippolito said. The second phase will see stakeholder feedback through an advisory council, set to start efforts at the state level next year.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will adopt and distribute a curriculum that best meets state standards to be sent to local schools to identify ways of incorporating classes to raise awareness of human trafficking and staff procedures to tackle suspected trafficking incidents in Wisconsin schools.
The former University of Chicago researcher said maintaining accurate data of all crimes against women was key in understanding the scope of the problem.
"The data issue is one of the more complex issues that are still in front of us," Ippolito said. "We know that trafficking is happening in all 72 counties and all 11 tribes in Wisconsin...Trafficking remains a challenge of rural and urban jurisdictions alike."