Tag Archive: La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery

UWL Student Spreads Awareness Of Human Sex Trafficking

February 21, 2019

Trigger warnings for rape, sexual abuse and violence.

A survivor of human sex trafficking from Ohio began her journey as a sex slave, being raped 27 times in the first night. What started as a harmless trip to New York with a neighbor took an unexpected turn of events when she was forced into a situation she couldn’t escape.

The leader of the La Crosse Task Force Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, who convened the organization in regards to human sex trafficking in 2013, shared a story about a victim. She said it began with trips to the zoo and recreational parks. This was one way a predator groomed victims into becoming sex slaves.

Once he convinced the girls to go on a trip to New York the environment changed. He bought them beautiful clothing. However, when he got them back to the hotel, the clothing wasn’t the only thing there. Accompanying the clothes were toys for sexual pleasure.

The girls tried to say no, but were met with violence. Without the presence of their parents and far away from home, they could not escape. That night he brought the girls out to service clients. The survivor from Ohio was raped 27 times, becoming a victim of human sex trafficking.

“In fact, the traffickers have said, ‘If you give them heaven, then they will follow you all the way to hell,’” Weisenbeck said, “then they will begin to take advantage of them and say, ‘You owe me.’”

Similar stories occur in this state every year. Since 2007, there have been a total of 362 human sex trafficking cases in the state of Wisconsin alone.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 64 human trafficking case reports and 122 calls in Wisconsin during the year of 2018, the victims ranging from minors to adults, as well as male and female victims. Weisenbeck said about 90% of victims are women and children, while perpetrators are primarily men.

She said, “It’s everybody’s problem.” By everyone, Weisenbeck means everyone. This is a global issue, the International Labor Organization estimates 40.3 million people in 2016 were forced into human sex trafficking, making it the 2nd highest profiting criminal activity.

According to Weisenbeck, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 has three criteria of human sex trafficking. The criteria include victims being forced against their will, a perpetrator fraudulently telling a victim a situation that is different than reality, and the threat of violence to coerce a victim.

Major forms of human trafficking include sex trafficking, child pornography, child soldiers, illegal adoptions, mail-order child bribes, and forced labor or bonded labor, which is when a victim is forced to pay off a debt with labor.

Weisenbeck shared 30 ways someone can help end human sex trafficking. A couple ways include being aware of surroundings, keeping the conversation going, and call the authorities of any suspicious activity.

Last December, a UW-La Crosse student took matters into her own hands in order to spread awareness of human sex trafficking. A non-traditional Sophomore Leah Williams and a group of UWL students gathered by the clock tower wearing dresses.

To read the full story by Chantal Zimmerman on The Racquet: Click Here

August, 2018 Monthly Reflection

August 1, 2018

Developing Survivor Advocacy Training for Trafficked Persons

by Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA

After more than a hundred presentations designed to raise awareness about human trafficking in western Wisconsin, various professionals and community organizations are now pondering how to develop a survivor advocate training program that is solely focused on the needs of trafficked persons. A natural progression has been through outreach toward like-minded groups to find ways in which to collaborate. This appears to be motivated by a desire and need to become learning communities together.

In western Wisconsin, the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery (TFEMS) has fielded inquiries from law enforcement, health care providers, community agencies and faith-based groups about preparing advocates who could be available on a 24/7 basis to assist survivors of human trafficking. The need arises out of several factors including an increasing recognition of victims in service areas, a lack of volunteer advocates available at critical times of need, and an acknowledged necessity to prepare advocates to interact appropriately with trafficked persons.

A local law enforcement officer emphasizes a need to not only to apprehend the criminal perpetrator but also to help the victim of human trafficking. Her interest and goal is to develop a core of survivor advocates who could be on call 24/7 to respond if a victim is open to receiving help at the time of the arrest/rescue. There is no such resource available to law enforcement in western Wisconsin at present. Her critical questions focused on what kind of training a survivor advocate should receive and how such training could be provided.

New Horizons, a local shelter for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, currently answers part of this need with night time volunteers who can meet victims at the county line and take them to the hospital or a shelter. A one-year commitment is required of the volunteers who work in this capacity. While a twelve-hour training module is provided for them, it focuses primarily on domestic and sexual violence and only minimally on trafficked persons. Limited follow-up case management is provided to the victims. Likewise, this is also true of a 40-hour advocate training program provided by a local health care system.

In searching for a means to respond to the various inquiries, TFEMS is partnering with New Horizons and The Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse (a partnership of donors, grantees and volunteers working to support programs for women and girls) to effectively create a human trafficking survivor advocate training program. Because Wisconsin does not have specific legal requirements for training of advocates for trafficked persons, we are prompted to seek out training modules and resources specifically related to human trafficking. Our neighbor state of Minnesota provides an exemplary model in its 40-hour training requirement for anyone who serves survivors of human trafficking.

So far, many ideas have been brought forward. All agree that a model for training must articulate core competencies, be sustainable, and be appropriate for both professionals and volunteers. Human trafficking advocates must be able to interact with a victim, establish and sustain relationships, and if possible, be compensated.

Continuing the conversations around survivor advocate training will take place in a Survivor Safe and Free Round Table event which will invite participants to reflect on possibilities for further collaboration and inquire if their agencies/organizations would send their professionals and volunteers to participate in a training program. Content will also be explored which must be multidisciplinary, survivor-informed and guided by the experience of professionals working with trafficked persons.

There is an indication that we may be breaking new ground in an attempt to create a program specific to survivor advocates in the human trafficking arena and in the potential creation of a workable protocol for response in western Wisconsin.


August, 2017 Monthly Reflection

August 3, 2017

Traffik 2017: A New Art Exhibit about Human Trafficking

Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA

On May 11-12, 2017 Mayo Clinic-Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse, WI held its 20th annual conference on Child Maltreatment with support from the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, Coulee Region Child Abuse Prevention Task Force, Family & Children’s Center – Stepping Stones, the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery, and Viterbo University Art Department. This nationally recognized conference addresses strategies that multidisciplinary teams can use to intervene when child maltreatment is reported, collaborate with community and family to protect children, and ensure justice for child victims of abuse/neglect.

This year the conference devoted a full day to human trafficking. Speakers addressed national and state legislation, human trafficking in a globalized context, assisting victims, and suppression of demand on the part of law enforcement. A special feature of the conference was a nationally juried art exhibit organized and presented by the Viterbo University Art Department, entitled Traffik 2017. The goal was to create a space for artists to express themselves, and for others to dwell among works that have been highly considered, in the context of this issue. The call to artists invited submission of works with an implication for introspection on the theme, the issues that surround it or its effects, and to explore broader interpretations of issues that it raises, such as oppression, illicit economies, invisibility, innocence, social justice and others. (http://www.viterbo.edu/art-department/traffik-2017-call-artists)

Image by Margaret Miller, Viterbo Art Alumni 2014

Viterbo University received some 50 entries from artists all over the United States and one from Austria. Since the call was open to anyone 18 years of age and older, entries represented the full spectrum of working artists, from high school and college students, to university professors, to professional and amateur working artists. The jury selected 28 pieces for the show.

A sampling from the exhibit is shown here with the permission of the artists. Their own words describe their creations.

Barbed Wire with Butterfly #2

By Daniel Stokes

Terra Cotta

I have chosen to describe the theme by illustrating the contrast embodied by my subject matter, butterflies and barbed wire. The butterfly representing the fragile, the harmless, the beautiful. All those precious things of this world that are vulnerable by their very nature including men, women, and children.

Barbed wire, whose sole purpose for existence is to inflict pain, as a symbol of the methods and attitudes of those who in service of greed would control, imprison, even enslave the weak and innocent through threats of violence, to whom human beings are nothing more than mere property to be bought, sold, and ultimately destroyed.

Dark Cities

by Anna Lucille Strunk (Lucy)


The top half of the painting shows Americans going about their everyday lives. The blue background reflects a calm and cool world, where there is nothing to be concerned about. The white figures are the everyday people, going about their lives in the cities and towns. The small size and white color represents how most people don’t think outside of their little worlds, and how they believe everything is right and pure.

The lower portion portrays the suffering of people and children taken by the calamity of human trafficking. The red background represents the burning pain and suffering experienced by these individuals. The hunched, black figures are those who have been taken and sold into slavery. They are a larger size than the white figures above because the problem of human trafficking is larger than we think it is. The bent over posture is for the treacherous work they are put through, and how they are sold to people who make things that we use every day, being put in a position that, in an unfortunate way, supports our country.

The black city and Empire State Building that rests over the bottom half of the painting represent the United States being ignorant or ignoring the issue. Our “perfect” little world has horrible and tragic happenings occurring beneath it.


Rick Carraway

Acrylic on canvas

In painting Selling, I wanted to capture the commerce of selling oneself to survive, and probably not by choice. The Swedish government has found that much of the vast profit generated by the global prostitution industry goes into the pockets of human traffickers. The Swedish government said, “International trafficking in human beings could not flourish but for the existence of local prostitution markets where men are willing and able to buy and sell women and children for sexual exploitation.”


This image was not submitted to the exhibit, but represents in a survivor’s own efforts how art can be helpful in the struggle toward healing and freedom.

Survivor Woman

By KN (survivor)

Acrylic mixed with other mediums

Most of the symbolism is in the side where the face is dark or shaded. It represents either the side of us we don’t know or the side we want to be unknown. The side that makes it look as if the wind is blowing to me represents how we are constantly changing. I also think the earthy colors are grounding.

“KN” affirms that art is another way to convey the message from the survivor. Art therapy opens up areas that have been blocked and helps the individual get at the pain from another angle. It functions like a castle with different doors where one can enter the memories and work with them. The doors can be closed again and issues can be put away when the survivor is not working on them. For her, the castle concept is a way to contain the reality so that it cannot have a continuously destructive influence on her life.

Art is frequently used in healing modalities for survivors of human trafficking. It also provides an entry for understanding more clearly the reality of this criminal activity which engulfs our world. Viewers at the Traffik 2017 art exhibit found it profoundly meaningful.

The obvious benefit of the Mayo Clinic-Franciscan Healthcare Child Maltreatment Conference was not only the knowledge conveyed in a variety of ways, but the collaboration among social institutions that is essential to making a contribution to ending modern slavery in the 21st century. Mayo Clinic-Franciscan Healthcare and Viterbo University are sponsored ministries of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse. The author of this article convened and continues to chair the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery.

Traffik 2017 will be on display at the Viterbo University Art Gallery from August 30-September 29, 2017. For more information, Department Chairwoman Sherri Lisota, can be contacted at sjlisota@viterbo.edu.