MILWAUKEE, Wis. (WBAY) – The FBI in Miwaukee says an operation that cracked down on child sex trafficking was a success nationwide, but Wisconsin was the state with the highest number of children rescued from sex traffickers.
“We focus on the victims, and the victims then lead us to the traffickers,” said Milwaukee FBI Special Agent Reid Norris.
Eleven children in Wisconsin were rescued during Operation Cross County, an effort between multiple law enforcement agencies that led to the arrests of 15 people in Brown County. The FBI says a total of 239 accused child sex traffickers were taken into custody across the country during the investigation from Oct. 13-16.
Overall, 82 children across the US were rescued from situations of child sex trafficking.
“These are victims that are being forced into this,” Norris said. “This is not something that they want to be doing.”
The FBI says that while all of the children rescued during the operation are from the greater Milwaukee area, that doesn’t mean towns like Green Bay don’t have children who are being targeted and brought into the sex trade.
“We see traffickers that will actually bring victims into town before major sporting events,” Norris said. “So prior to a Packers game, there may be increased activity at local hotels that could be near the stadium.”
You can spot victims by looking for young teenagers with signs of physical or sexual abuse who are not free to come and go at will or have much older “boyfriends,” Norris said.
The FBI in Milwaukee says 23 pimps were arrested in Wisconsin.
“That’s a big, big deal, and for people that work this violation, we take that very, very seriously,” Norris said.
Norris said the amount of children rescued in Wisconsin can mean one of two things: either their office did a great job finding the children, or there are more kids being victimized than anyone knew.
“It’s something that we have to look at again year-round, and that’s why we don’t stop after this successful three-day operation,” he said.
Norris said awareness is growing, but sex trafficking victim advocate Sister Celine Goessl says that not everyone understands the reality.
“When I talk to them they say, ‘Yeah, but where are these children being brought in from? China? Or India? Or wherever.’ And I said, ‘They’re right from Green Bay. They’re right from Brown County,'” Goessl said.
Goessl believes victims are already in Green Bay, and after years of helping them and spreading awareness, she says it’s time others step up and do the same.
“They’re going to need time and space, and people who are concerned enough to show them what real love is all about,” she said.
The FBI says it’s encouraged by the number of law enforcement agencies joining this effort, but they say until the public is more involved, there will still be children at risk.
Anyone who sees anything suspicious should not hesitate to contact the FBI.
“If you don’t stay on top of it, you just don’t know who, where the next victim’s going to come from,” Norris said.