|4/2/2019 9:43:00 AM|
Mineral Point woman passionate about human trafficking issue
By Jim Massey
Many local people don't think twice about the term "human trafficking," because they believe it only happens to people in other parts of the world or large U.S. cities.
A Mineral Point woman is trying to get the message out that it could happen anywhere, even in Iowa County.
"To think that it could happen to one of my three children, it just freaks me out," Christina Weitzel told members of the Kiwanis Club of Dodgeville at a recent meeting. "It can and has happened in this area."
Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery, in which people are enslaved for sex or labor purposes. It is a $150 billion per year business worldwide, with an estimated 40 million people enslaved across the globe.
Closer to home, the numbers are also alarming, Weitzel said. There were 8,759 cases reported in the U.S. in 2017, with 10,000 individual victims and an estimated 5,000 traffickers. It is believed the numbers are much larger than that, with many cases going unreported.
A national hotline set up to tackle the issue receives more than 150 calls per day. About 80 percent of the victims are female.
The states with the most reported cases are California, Texas and Florida, but there have been reports in every U.S. state.
Weitzel said human trafficking occurs "in every county in Wisconsin," and a recent suspected case in Iowa County was among the triggers that prompted her to speak out on the topic.
In one weekend in 2013, the FBI arrested 100 suspected traffickers in Wisconsin Dells, Milwaukee, Madison and the Fox Valley, she said. The I-94 corridor is an especially high trafficked area because of the easy transportation flow.
Many human trafficking victims are lured by promises of lucrative jobs, stability, educational opportunities or a loving relationship, Weitzel said. They are often runaways or homeless youth, or sometimes victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Traffickers known as "Romeos" will lure young victims by promising loving relationships that the victims might crave. Once the victims are enslaved, pimps will often force the young people to do what they want by using force, threats, lies or psychological coercion. Sometimes, drugs are used to control the victims.
The largest sector of victims are between the ages of 13 and 19.
Weitzel said rather than just talking about the topic, she and others are taking steps to combat the crime. A group known as "The Business Minds of Southwest Wisconsin" is sponsoring a free eight-week self-defense course to help people defend themselves if they are approached by a human trafficker or attacked by a criminal for another reason.
The course is open to anyone from high school age through adults. The first class will be April 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Mineral Point High School wrestling room.
Mike Moyle, a self-defense instructor, will provide the training.
For more information about the self-defense course, visit www.christinaweitzel.com/self-defense or call or text Weitzel at 608-574-9145.
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