UWL student spreads awareness of human sex trafficking



Chantal Zimmermann, Feature Reporter

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.

Global Sisters Report

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.


Williams shared that her intention was to build off of the national annual Dressember movement by creating an atmosphere that engaged people in conversation. The group of students held up signs that said, “Ask me why I am wearing this dress.”

Williams continued to say that she was surprised by the amount of people that came up to engage in a conversation. However, Williams was not satisfied, she continued to create a theatrical performance piece, as part of her undergraduate research, to educate the audience in a sensitive and engaging way.

“In middle school, I was told about what was happening globally and I was kind of shocked,” Williams said. “I didn’t think something like that could be happening in modern times.”

Williams elaborated that after she was aware of what was happening in her own country, she was determined to be an active part of stopping modern-day slavery, being a voice for the victims, and helping them become free.

There are simple ways to get involved in spreading awareness. During December, people wear dresses and bow ties to elicit conversations from fellow community members. Their goal is to get others to support organizations that support current victims, survivors, and legal cases.

Polaris is an organization, founded in 2002, that aims to serve sex trafficking victims through a 24/7 national human trafficking hotline, constructing public data sets on human trafficking, and turning knowledge into action.

For more information on how to spread awareness, check out the Polaris Project.

“I always say this, memorize the national human sex trafficking hotline number, 1-888-373-7888, if you see something call that number,” Weisenbeck said. “First of all call 911 at home, at least get the police involved in what you think you are seeing even if you are not sure.”