Editor’s note: Human trafficking is a crime that is getting more attention locally and across the nation. There are challenges in identifying perpetrators and victims, but locally, citizens have been trained to assist in identifying human trafficking. This is the second in a three-part series on what is being done locally regarding human trafficking.
BELOIT — Rock County human service providers say they’re seeing an increase in time spent assisting those believed to be victims of human trafficking, and agencies are banding together to prevent those victims from falling through the cracks.
Family Services Director of Survivor Empowerment Services Kelsey Hood-Christenson and Family Services Sexual Assault Service Coordinator Joan Curtis coordinate response efforts for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.
Both said human trafficking is harder to identify outright when assisting vulnerable people, with potential human trafficking cases involving substance abuse, homelessness or other factors.
“A lot of elements may cause a victim to look at it like they have to do it to continue to survive or are engaged in things that make them feel isolated from seeking help,” Hood-Christenson said. “There’s a high intersection of drug use and trafficking.”
The response to human trafficking locally is something that’s grown slowly since 2010, with service providers joining to coordinate response efforts.
The domestic violence center and Sexual Assault Recovery Program (SARP) now work with a range of agencies and law enforcement under the Family Services umbrella.
“We want to make sure we are able to reach everyone in the community,” Hood-Christenson said. “The proactive nature of everyone coming together shows dedication. It says we are dedicated and we are willing enough to look at the difficult areas.”
In 2019, SARP and related organizations reported assisting human trafficking victims a total of 452 hours locally, according to data provided by Family Services.
“It’s becoming an agency-helping-agency type response with keeping in mind helping the survivors of human trafficking,” Curtis said.
Curtis said reaching people can be difficult.
“We come in at their level,” Curtis said. “If they don’t think they are a victim, but the signs are clearly there, we work with them to find out how to have a healthier life.”
Family Services recently added a human trafficking advocate to help follow cases more closely, along with having added a volunteer coordinator position.
“This offers us increased engagement opportunities,” Hood-Christenson said.
SARP also added more staff, moving to have two part-time employees and five full-time staff.
“We really focused on increasing staff to full-time so we can provide the best services possible to survivors,” Hood-Christenson said. “This makes us more available.”
Funds for new positions come from a multi-year Victims of Crime Act federal grant.
At the state level, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, has crafted legislation aimed at fighting trafficking since 2011.
A key law supported by Loudenbeck helped children who are victims of trafficking by improving policies for child protective services in suspected trafficking situations.
Earlier this year, Loudenbeck represented the state at a federal trafficking task force at the White House hosted by President Donald Trump.