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FOX 11 Investigates: Police focus on sex trafficking

Police take part in sex trafficking sting in Brown County, October 12, 2017. (WLUK)

(WLUK) -- Call it prostitution, 'sex trafficking,' the 'life.' No matter the name, the reality is there seems to be no shortage of people willing to buy and sell sex.

FOX 11 Investigates spent months shining a light on the world of sex trafficking.

"Human sex trafficking is modern day slavery," said sex trafficking survivor Emmy Myers.

"It's easier to not want to think about these kinds of things that are happening," added Nicole Tynan, who is also a survivor of sex trafficking.

FOX 11 spoke with Tynan and Myers to get an idea of what the 'life' is really like.

"If you don't do it you're going to be beat by the pimp if you don't have the money to bring back," Tynan said.

"It's happening right under our noses," Myers added.

Both Myers Tynan and Nicole are now out of the life. Both have spent time as advocates for victims. They say a big part of the solution is focusing on the people paying for sex.

"If there's not men to buy women then pimps don't have as much incentive to traffic women. It's very clear to me," Tynan said.

That's what police are starting to do.

"We feel there are a lot of buyers that are interested," said Lt. Jim Valley from the Brown County Sheriff's Department.

Valley coordinated a sting in October where police from a half dozen agencies teamed up to take down people trying to buy sex. An undercover analyst posted an ad online and within minutes men were trying to meet up.

While our cameras were rolling, police arrested two men who set up a meeting with an undercover officer. Police made a dozen arrests during the three-day operation.

"If we can try to take the buyers away and educate them that this is wrong, maybe we can move forward and help these females to not have as many buyers," Valley said.

That is exactly the approach advocates say they want to see.

"If we can get the buyers to stop buying, the traffickers would stop fueling this business and recruiting these girls because they do prey on girls that are vulnerable," said Season Russo, co-founder of the anti-trafficking organization Eye Heart World.

Eye Heart World has been in Brown County for two years and recently opened a home for women who are trying to get out of the sex business.

When asked why there is such a need in Brown County, Russo replied, "Because of the demand. Because ultimately guys are wanting these services."

Police in Brown County have changed their approach to sex buyers.

"At first we took a stance of just giving citations out. We learned that a citation is just a monetary value and everybody is just willing to pay it and be done and it's not stopping anything," Valley said.

Now, police are being more aggressive.

"We're taking everybody into custody and bringing them to the Brown County Jail. They're being booked in for pandering or prostitution depending on what the charges are and they later receive a summons to appear in court and appear in front of a judge to face their charges," Valley added.

So far this year, the Brown County Sheriff's Department says it has arrested 70 people for soliciting.

Police in Brown County say the average sex buyer in the county is a 30 to 50-year-old, college-educated white man who is married with children. That's the average. This year in Brown County, police arrested a 20-year-old who was about to get married and a 64-year-old who was never married.

"People just don't wake up in the morning and think, 'How can I ruin my life and my reputation?'" said Joe Pullen, an associate pastor at Christ the Rock Church. He is also part of the AIM Program in the Fox Valley. AIM stands for Awareness and Information for Men.

The one day seminar is designed to educate men who are first-time offenders about the realities of sex trafficking.

"We want them to know that sex trafficking isn't what the perpetrators and profiteers in the sex industry present it to be," Pullen said.

He also says technology has made it easier for people to engage in sex trafficking.

"At one point in time, the vision of a prostitute was someone standing on a street corner and you had to go to a seedy location in order to engage in that. When now you can purchase sex from the privacy of your home or hotel room via your telephone or your laptop and it will come right to your door step which removes a lot of the barriers into entry into prostitution that would normally have kept people from going there in the past," Pullen said.

Law enforcement says the buyers are the root of the problem.

"If we didn't have people who were willing to buy sex from what turns out in often cases to be children, there wouldn't be traffickers selling this," Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel told FOX 11 Investigates.

Schimel has created a statewide task force to address sex trafficking. While the efforts are mainly focused on helping victims and arresting buyers, Schimel says there's also a focus on the traffickers.

"That's our biggest challenge because in order to get to them we need to have a victim who is going to cooperate and give us the information about what's happening. That takes building a trust relationship and that's not going to happen overnight to someone who has been essentially brain-washed by the trafficker," Schimel said.

Investigators in Brown County haven't forgotten about the people pulling the strings.

"We are actually actively going after the traffickers. What we do is we set up, it's no secret, we set up the way we set up to try to get the trafficker," said Sgt. Matt Wilson.

He says during a sting, there's a special team dedicated to trying to catch the trafficker. This year, the Brown County Sheriff's Department says it has made five arrests for human trafficking.

"We're trying to get those pimps but it takes a very deep investigation to get those guys but we are taking steps to prosecute those guys as well," Wilson said.

FOX 11 is shining a light on the dark world of sex trafficking.

Join us at fox11online.com on Tuesday, November 21 from 7-8 p.m. for an hour-long roundtable discussion on sex trafficking.

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