Tag Archive: Wisconsin

Holy Cross Sister On A Mission From God: To End Human Trafficking

August 17, 2021

Sister Celine Goessel of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, who recently returned to the U.S. headquarters for the Catholic order [yes, right here in Merrill] is an 86-year-old little firecracker of a nun who also happens to be a former Provincial of the Order [from 2006-2012] [formerly called a Mother Superior].

She returned to Merrill in early spring 2021, and has made it her passion and personal mission to spend her golden years [tongue in cheek, since she has already twice retired and twice come out of retirement, and she has more energy than most 35-year-olds] educating people about and helping to eradicate Human Trafficking.

Sister Celine calls it “the worst crime that we humans need to deal with” and said that, “Since COVID-19 invaded our world, the crime of drugs and the misuse of guns in our American society has been surpassed by Human Trafficking.”

One of the best ways to eradicate it is to educate the public about what Human Trafficking is, how to recognize when it is happening right in our community, how to report it, and how to stop supporting it. And yes, you read that right. Because sometimes, she says, we do things or make decisions that inadvertently support ongoing Human Trafficking activities without even realizing it.

If you don’t think Human Trafficking exists in Wisconsin, and in Merrill, think again, Sister says. While often hidden from view from the ordinary person, it’s here, and it’s happening, in our own back yards. Human Trafficking is in cities and rural areas, and in all 72 counties in Wisconsin, she says.

Three ways human beings are trafficked

Human Trafficking happens in three key ways, Sister Celine explained: Trafficking of children as child brides, Labor Trafficking of children and adults, and Sex Trafficking of children and adults. Though possibly the most horrific to even think about, Sister Celine focuses most on helping to educate and eradicate Sex Trafficking, which encompasses many different forms and activities.
The victims of Sex Trafficking are both male and female, although more frequently female, she says. And victims can be all ages, from very young children on up, though the most frequent victims are young, and those seriously victimized don’t live to be very old. The average age of a victim of Sex Trafficking is 13 years old. These are some of the cold, hard, but strikingly horrifying and tragically sad, facts.

Sister Celine was never what one would call a super pious, obedient servant of God, and she would be the first to tell you that. But this slightly and delightfully sassy woman of God is passionate about doing God’s work, and has been devoted to Him since her Junior year in high school. In this season of her life, that spunk and her warm, down-to-earth ways make her relatable and approachable. When you’re dealing with a topic like this, that demeanor and her genuine sense of humor make her the perfect Sister for the job! Picture Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, but white, including her short white hair – sometimes with a streak of blue to show her solidarity with the victims of Human Sex Trafficking – and no dreadlocks. Sister Celine loves that movie, and believes that, like the nuns in that movie, she and her fellow Sisters need to get out of the hospitals and schools and get out on the streets where the real issues are.


Read the full story by Tina L. Scott on Merrill Foto News.

Men Against Human Trafficking

February 10, 2020

Human trafficking isn’t just a Milwaukee problem, it’s a global issue. The Polaris Project reported that in 2016, 40.3 million people were victims of human trafficking throughout the world. The Medical College of Wisconsin found that 340 individuals were believed to be victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee between 2013 to 2016.

When a person is trafficked, they may be trapped in forced labor, forced to perform sexual acts and more. According to the Polaris Project, 25 percent of victims are children and 75 percent are women and girls. While men aren’t often the targets of human trafficking, one group is taking a stand against it.

The Convergence Resource Center, a faith-based nonprofit organization, offers support to men and women who have experienced trauma. The goal is to help them rebuild their lives and there’s a specific focus on helping women and female survivors of human trafficking.

As part of its efforts, the Convergence Resource Center created HEMAD or Human trafficking Educators working with Men and boys to stand Against the Demand. The campaign is specifically aimed at men with the intention being that men sign up to take the pledge against human trafficking.

According to the press release, last year 3,000 men took the pledge and this year its goal is 6,000.

“We’ve had men from throughout Wisconsin, the Midwest and as far away as Florida take the pledge,” said Debbie Lassiter, executive director of Convergence Resource Center.

To read the full article by Ana Martinez-Ortiz on The Milwaukee Courier: Click Here

Abused Farm Workers – Fainting And Freezing In The Fields

November 29, 2019

In 2016, “Roberto” legally came to the United States for the same reason many immigrants do — to earn a living and a slice of the American dream. But Roberto, a native of southern Mexico, says he suffered a nightmare of coercion, financial exploitation, threats and mistreatment while working on a Georgia farm and, later, at cabbage patches in southeastern Wisconsin.

Roberto arrived in the United States legally under an H-2A visa, which allows seasonal farm laborers to work for specific employers. Roberto says he was forced to pay a fee and turn over the deed to his parents’ property to an intermediary in Mexico as security for his continued work in the United States.

When Roberto arrived in Georgia, the situation was not at all what the recruiter had described. There were hundreds of workers — all men, all from Mexico — living together in cramped barracks and isolated from nearby towns, he said.

“The same day you arrive, that same day they ask you for your passport. They take all of your personal documents,” Roberto said of the contractors, who hired out workers to farms growing squash, cucumbers and cilantro in southern Georgia.

The boss warned Roberto they were there only to work and, “No matter what, they don’t want us talking to any strangers — people that are not from the work site. And that we couldn’t leave either  — work, and then back to the house.”

Roberto — not his real name — is among 14 men from Mexico who were allegedly victimized by a labor-trafficking scheme that transported legal temporary farm workers from Georgia to work illegally at a Racine-area farm, according to an indictment in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin announced May 22.

He spoke exclusively to Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Watch in 2017, before the indictment, and has asked through his attorneys to remain anonymous to avoid potential retribution. At their request, WPR and Wisconsin Watch delayed publication of the interview to avoid compromising the investigation.

To read the full story by Alexandra Hall and Sarah Whites-Koditschek on Wisconsin State Farmer: Click Here

Human trafficking is all over Wisconsin, but subtle. You might have seen victims and never known.

June 24, 2019

Even victims don’t know they’re being trafficked. So how can you spot the crime and the perpetrators?

Colleen Stratton grew up in Kohler, one of the most affluent communities in Wisconsin. She met her trafficker when she was about to turn 25. By then, she’d already struggled with abuse, self-harm and addiction.

She met that man in Florida after her parents sent her there for addiction treatment. Stratton skipped out on treatment and stayed in a beach-side hotel until her money ran out.

Her trafficker, she said, didn’t have to groom her. She was already homeless and detoxing from drugs and alcohol.

“He said he was going to take me back to his house and help me get on my feet again,” Stratton said. “A week later, he was raping me and having others rape me.”

Her trafficker also “owned” four other women and kept them in his “stable” — a term used to describe a group of people being trafficked by the same person.

He would take her to walk the streets, to truck stops and motels.

“I thought that I was just a prostitute,” Stratton said. “I literally just thought, ‘OK, I’m prostituting myself so that I have a place to stay, so that I can have drugs, so that I don’t get beat.'”

Though Stratton didn’t realize it, she’d entered the dark world of human trafficking. The International Labor Organization estimated 40.3 million people were victims of trafficking at any given point in 2016. The signs are subtle but it’s taking place all around us, in towns of all sizes in Wisconsin.

You may have seen someone being trafficked and had no idea it was going on.

To read the full story by Diana Dombrowski on The Sheboygan Press: Click Here

Calling It An ‘Outrage’ The Crime Still Exists, Attorney General Josh Kaul Aims To Ramp Up Efforts To Combat Human Trafficking

May 23, 2019

Attorney General Josh Kaul aims to ramp up Wisconsin’s efforts to combat human trafficking, calling it “an outrage” the crime still exists.

“There’s both sex trafficking and forced labor,” Kaul said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “This is a crime where people have been forced or coerced into engaging in an illegal activity.”

Kaul has requested six additional positions at the state Department of Justice that would be involved in human trafficking investigations.

Four of the new positions would join the agency’s digital forensic unit, which is focused on recovering evidence from electronic devices, such as cellphones and computers. Those new staffers, known as digital forensic examiners, would assist law enforcement agencies around the state.

“People involved in all sorts of crimes use electronic devices, just like everybody else,” Kaul said. “Being able to recover evidence from those devices helps with all sorts of investigations, including human trafficking investigations.”

Another two positions would be added to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in an effort to “ensure prompt referral and investigation of tips” received from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They would also help with case follow-ups and tracking to make sure investigations are promptly completed.

To read the full story by Mary Spicuzza on The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 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.