Trafficking victims seek help in local shelters

Posted at 4:06 PM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 19:11:36-05

For years, Harbor House in Appleton was helping sex trafficking victims and didn't always know it. 

"We have come to realize that, understanding those warning signs, that we were serving some folks that were not identifying as a sex trafficking victim," said Wendy Gehl from Harbor House.

An increased focus on the issue, as well as a better understanding of those warning signs, has helped Harbor House and other organizations improve how they help victims of sex trafficking.

"It's really hard for them to think about leaving," Gehl explained. "[They think] Where will I go? I don't know this town, I don't know this community, who is going to help me?"

An initiative started in 2015 is looking to do just that: help victims, primarily children. The Outagamie County Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Partnership has brought together law enforcement, advocacy groups, and other social service agencies to address the trafficking problem in the area.

"It's a new topic and issue in the Valley to a lot of people, meaning community, but not for us that are involved in it and see it at a deeper level," said Caroline Lasecki, Executive Director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Appleton and head of the steering committee for the partnership.

Along with law enforcement, shelters and other groups are now learning more about sex trafficking and what they can do for victims.

"We're really trying to educate ourselves to the warning signs and what are the specific needs that are different for a sex trafficking victim versus a domestic violence victim," Gehl said.

There will be a panel discussion on Monday, February 22nd to discuss sex trafficking in the Fox Valley. Panelists include the Appleton Police Department, the District Attorney's Office, and a Former U.S. Department of Justice consultant.

The discussion is from 1-3 p.m. at the Kimberly-Clark Neenah Conference Center in Neenah.