MILWAUKEE —Sex trafficking of children has likely increased since the pandemic started, according to law enforcement and community advocates.
Keeping kids home during the pandemic was meant to protect them.
However, it led to a huge jump in time spent online and for vulnerable minors, a downward spiral.
“A lot of our victims meet their traffickers on social media,” said Detective Rodney Gonzales. Gonzales is a detective with Milwaukee Police Department’s sensitive crimes unit and has been with MPD for 24 years. “About half of my victims are juveniles and I’ve had human trafficking victims as young as 12, 13.”
WISN 12 News investigated the number of reported cases.
According to MPD, the number of reported cases in sex trafficking of minors decreased in 2020, from 30 reported cases in 2019 to 17 reported cases last year.
However, Gonzales and his partner, Detective Anna Ojdana, said those statistics don’t tell the full story.
“I think all the numbers are underreported. We do see a lot of crimes associated with human trafficking. For example homicides, batteries, domestic violence offenses,” Ojdana said. “Milwaukee is definitely a hub for sex trafficking. It’s easy access. Highways connect you to all the other states. We see a lot of people coming from Green Bay and Appleton. We see victims from Chicago and Minnesota.”
MPD, the Milwaukee U.S. Attorney’s Office and community advocates all told WISN 12 the pandemic has likely made sex trafficking of children worse.
Predators know teens are online all day and target minors on the same social media apps their peers use.
“It’s Snapchat, it’s Tagged, it’s Kik, it’s Facebook, it’s Instagram,” Ojdana said. “OnlyFans is included as well.”
Officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office told WISN 12 predators target vulnerable kids and that a single predator often times sends messages out to a hundred different minors a day, saying anything to get their attention.
Since shelters and outreach programs temporarily closed during the pandemic, community
advocates said more under-supported teens likely fell into those traps.