Lawmakers seek legal protection for human trafficking victims

The Wisconsin State Capitol is seen, Oct. 1, 2013.
The Wisconsin State Capitol is seen, Oct. 1, 2013.

APPLETON - The way prostitution is viewed may be changing.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says he believes some people are realizing some prostitutes may be victims of sex trafficking. Now he wants the state to do more to protect those who are victims.

Connie Campbell of Appleton believes sex trafficking is a modern form of slavery.

"It's every single day, in our neighborhood," said Campbell.

She runs an organization called 5-stones, with the mission of fighting trafficking.

"This is not a crime where a victim comes forward," Campbell explained.

Van Hollen hopes that will change as the public learns more about the issue.

"People are correctly recognizing that people who have been termed as prostitutes in the past aren't necessarily so," said Van Hollen.

Van Hollen and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers have created a bill that would change the way human trafficking cases are handled in court.

Those changes include allowing victims to have a prostitution conviction erased; limiting the ability to prosecute minors engaged in prostitution; and giving victims greater rights to confidentiality.

"This bill, amongst many other things, gives them an opportunity to try to at least set the record straight a little bit and give themselves a second chance in life," said Van Hollen.

Brown County District Attorney David Lasee says right now it's difficult to get trafficking victims to come forward.

"These are difficult cases because of the underlying background of the victims, the situation they find themselves in. They often go unreported," said Lasee.

Lasee hopes the bill continues to make progress in Madison. Committees in the Assembly and Senate have already held hearings on the bill. It could be debated by the entire Legislature in the next few months.

Lasee suggested a new law would mean more work for his staff, but said he's okay with that.

If and when the legislation passes, Campbell still doesn't think many victims will step forward.

"But when there's laws being written just for them, I hope that it edifies their position and the fact that they do matter, and we need to care," she said.

Her fight continues.

"Not one thing is going to do it, it's a multiple of things, and that law is a great beginning."

Campbell encourages anyone who sees evidence of human trafficking to call local law enforcement.