FOX 11 Investigates: 16 arrested in Brown Co. as part of national human trafficking sting

An arrest is made during Operation Cross Country, a human trafficking sting, in Brown County. (WLUK image)

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WLUK) -- FOX 11 Investigates is taking you behind-the-scenes of an FBI operation focused on sex trafficking.

The FBI says dozens of children have been recovered during the nationwide sex trafficking sting. Two of those minors were found in Wisconsin.

It was part of Operation Cross Country and involved agencies across Northeast Wisconsin.

Police from a half dozen police agencies spent three days searching websites and arranging meetings with people police say were looking to buy and sell sex.

While we were there, just minutes after police placed an ad online, men were trying to meet up. But they weren't expecting who showed up.

FOX 11 Investigates was there as police arrested two men trying to meet who they thought was a young woman. Instead, they met police.

Over three days, police in Brown County made 16 arrests including two people arrested for human trafficking, two for prostitution and 12 men arrested for trying to buy sex.

Lt. Jim Valley from the Brown County Sheriff's Department says the approach of law enforcement has changed dramatically over the years.

When asked what he would say to people who think this is simply prostitution and not a big deal, Valley replied, "Sometimes they can make a good argument on it but they do have to realize that these girls are victims. And we're finding that 90% are victims, being forced to do this. I don't think they would appreciate anybody in their family being forced to do something unwillingly, especially having a sexual encounter."

While no juveniles were found during the sting in northeast Wisconsin, the FBI says two minors were removed from a trafficking situation in Racine.

In all, police made 82 arrests as part of the operation in Wisconsin.

"We're not only going after to try to help these victims out but we're also going after the sex buyers to try to prevent these problems in the future," said Sgt. Matt Wilson who leads the human trafficking efforts for the Brown County Sheriff's Department.

Nationwide, the FBI says 84 minors were rescued and 120 traffickers were arrested.

Despite the crackdown and the arrests, police say they know sex trafficking continues. Their goal is to stop as much of it as they can.

"It's very difficult to sit here day after day and just think how many girls are out there in Green Bay and you not being able to get to them. It's terrible what's happening. And it is happening here. Don't let anybody fool you and say that it's not happening because it is," Wilson said.

The sheriff's department says no one from the local operation has been charged at this point.

This was the 11th year of the FBI's Operation Cross Country. While that is an annual, nationwide sting, local police say their focus continues year-round.

FOX 11 is also trying to shine a light on sex trafficking. Next month, FOX 11 will host a round table discussion on the subject. We're bringing together law enforcement, community advocates, and survivors to talk about sex trafficking and what the community can do to stop it. That event, hosted by Robert Hornacek, will be held on November 21st from 7 to 8 p.m. Stay tuned to FOX 11 for more details.

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