On Wednesday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced that he is allocating $80,000 in his budget for the upcoming year for services that help victims of sex trafficking. Parisi says he decided to set aside this money after speaking with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, who earlier this year announced his intent to increase efforts to fight sex trafficking.
The money would go to Project Respect, a nonprofit that offers services and help to people who have escaped sex trafficking operations. According to Jan Miyasaki, the director of Project Respect, the money would be used to provide victims with resources and create a new position: a 24-hour crisis response worker who would work with victims. Parisi says that this is part of a broader effort to raise awareness of a problem that frequently goes unnoticed.
“The important thing for people to know is that trafficking does exist, even in our region, even though you might not see it,” Parisi said. “It’s facilitated through prostitution, and it’s important to realize that this problem exists because there is a demand to pay for sex. And I think it’s important that when people, particularly men, know that when they’re doing that, they are stoking a demand that results in sex trafficking. It’s not a victimless crime.”
Parisi also created a new County position to help prevent sex trafficking last year.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 134 human trafficking cases in the state in 2018, an increase of over ninety cases from 2017. Erin Thornley, the executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Wisconsin, says that services like Project Respect are necessary not just because people who escape sex trafficking operations can be traumatized, but also because, frequently, victims are too scared to go to the police.
“If you think about it, when someone has been trafficked, they’ve basically been kidnapped, and are being coerced in any number of ways to stay in that situation,” said Thornley.
“They’re physically in danger, usually eyes are on them pretty much all the time. If it’s people who have family members, especially if people have children, the trafficker will often say ‘I will harm your kids if you don’t do what I say.’”
Miyasaki says that some of the money could be used to pay for short-term housing for victims.
Parisi says that, though this is the only money in the Dane County budget to expanding efforts to fight human trafficking, his office is helping in other ways. He says his office is coordinating efforts between law enforcement agencies in order to help spot sex trafficking operations. He said that the problem requires a holistic response, and Miyasaki agrees.
“The solution requires a broad network of services that responds to abuse in all its forms, including sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect,” says Miyasaki.
“It will take the entire community to address the demand that drives this crime and to uphold priorities and values that promote equality and social justice.”
The budget is now being reviewed by the standing committees of the Dane County Board, and the Board plans to take up budget resolutions next month. If this project passes through the budget process, it will begin to take effect at the beginning of next year.