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View from around the state: State must step up and join others to combat human trafficking

— From the Kenosha News

It sent a strong message. Law enforcement and elected officials standing behind U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil as he introduced his first bill, HR 2149, “Exposing the Financing of Human Trafficking Act,” at the Racine County Sheriff’s Substation.

“When we give foreign aid from the federal government to countries globally, we need to know they’re our partner in stopping illicit financing and human trafficking,” said the freshman Republican representing the 1st Congressional District. “That’s what this bill does. It holds countries accountable.”

Steil, a member of the House Committee of Financial Services, is working with law enforcement to find ways to slow down what has become a big concern. Human trafficking is a huge and growing source of anxiety in Kenosha County, which is on the I-94 corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee.

“Over the last two years, I’ve learned how it’s riddled throughout Kenosha County,” county Sheriff David Beth said at the Racine news conference. “We know it runs rampant along the interstate.

“To hear the federal government and Congressman Steil is working at this to eliminate and curb and deal with this on a local and national level is wonderful for me and law enforcement in southeastern Wisconsin.”

HR 2149 is being sponsored by seven Republicans and seven Democrats. It must move through the Committee of Financial Services to get to the full House.

We know Steil will work on it in Washington, just as law-enforcement officials have been working on this issue locally. We recently reported on attempts to open a safe house in Kenosha County. If built, the proposed project would be the largest house operated by Selah Freedom, a Florida-based nonprofit with a mission to end sex trafficking.

The house would have people working there 24 hours a day and provide a safe residential program for survivors. Kenosha County was chosen because of its location between the two major cities.

There were more than 300 human-trafficking victims — ranging in ages 13 to 62 — identified in the last four years in Kenosha and Racine counties, according to Neal Lofy, a nationally recognized investigator at the Racine Police Department.

This problem needs everyone at the table, and it’s now time for the state to step up. As we’ve reported, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has called for six new positions at the Department of Justice to help with investigations into allegations of human trafficking.

Kaul’s personnel request is included in Gov. Tony Evers budget proposal. To date it has not come to a vote.

“There’s sex trafficking and forced labor,” Kaul told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “… It’s in my view an outrage that this is a crime that still exists. It’s important that we raise awareness of it.”

Kaul has said that four of the positions would join the DOJ’s digital-forensics unit, which tries to recover evidence from electronic devices. The other two would bolster the Internal Crimes Against Children Task Force, which receives tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

There should be bipartisan support in Madison to add state support to the efforts being made in Kenosha County to combat human trafficking. Let’s hope this priority on which Republicans and Democrats can agree.

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