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Human trafficking in the heartland

The Center’s Julie Strupp talked to victims of this hidden crime for her August 2011 story: Read the story

In July, police in DeKalb County, Ga., found a 15-year-old Wisconsin runaway who was allegedly forced into prostitution and was advertised online as a 25-year-old providing “adult services.”

Wisconsin, however, wasn’t among the 45 states that on Wednesday accused, the website that published the Wisconsin girl’s advertisement, of facilitating child exploitation and sex trafficking across the nation.

The state attorneys general sent a letter to lawyer Samuel Fifer calling the website a “hub” for human trafficking and asking for details about the company’s policies aimed at preventing the illegal activity.

More than 50 cases of trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors on have been filed in 22 states in the past three years, the letter says. vice president Carl Ferrer acknowledged the company identifies more than 400 “adult services” posts that may involve minors, the letter says. Minors are not legally capable of consenting to sex, and law enforcement officials have discovered many of those advertised are coerced, officials said.

When asked why he declined to sign the letter from the attorneys general, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who has focused on fighting Internet crime against children, issued a statement to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism saying he has “a policy of not publicly announcing the details of ongoing investigations or publicly negotiating private sector cooperation.”

Illegal activity has occurred on and other websites, Van Hollen said.

“More than 200 cyber tips involving unlawful web activity—including activity on—and numerous child enticement and child pornography cases are investigated by Wisconsin’s ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Force,” the statement said, noting that such investigations have resulted in more than 100 arrests this year.

Van Hollen encouraged all websites to cooperate with law enforcement to prevent their sites from being “conduits for illegal activity.” officials have readily acknowledged prostitution ads appear on the website, but said in a February 2011 statement they have introduced some policies to eradicate illegal activity on the website, including implementing a no-nudity policy.

But hasn’t gone far enough for the attorneys general, who said the website makes an estimated $22.7 million per year from ads in the “adult” section.

“We believe sets a minimal bar for content review in an effort to temper public condemnation, while ensuring that the revenue spigot provided by prostitution advertising remains intact,” the letter says.

Fitchburg, Wis., police say the runaway teenager, who has an infant son, was forced into prostitution in Milwaukee and Atlanta. Police say a pimp advertised her on as a 25-year-old providing “adult services.”

Lt. Steve Elliott of the Appleton Police Department agrees online escort advertisements like those found on often mask what is actually human trafficking in Wisconsin, a crime he says is hidden and pervasive., another classifieds website, shut down its adult services section last September after a similar outcry from anti-trafficking activists and attorneys general. The attorneys general applauded the website’s decision in the letter to, saying it’s difficult to accurately detect underage human trafficking.

If you have information relating to illegal sex trafficking activity being conducted online, call a local law enforcement agency or the Missing and Exploited Children Cyber Tipline at 1-800-843-5678.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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12 replies on “ accused of facilitating sex trafficking”

  1. In addition to the numerous pedophile cops, judges, district attorneys, FBI agents, priests, preachers, teachers, boy scout leaders and other persons in positions of trust and which society seems to want to ignore, there is the recent (but certainly not new) revelation of an out of control pedophilia Hollywood by former child actor Cory Feldman, who claims that Hollywood runs rampant with pedophile moguls, producers, agents and others and that no one seems to want to do anything to stop it. Certainly those Hollywood pedophiles do not need or use to find their victims, but there is no outrage from states attorneys general to ‘do something about it.” Just a lot of posturing about adult prostitution and the need to ‘stop all adult ads’ in order to stop the potential victimization of children through sex trafficking. Perhaps if that were a viable solution to the problem at hand, we ought to apply it to all the other areas where children are at risk of being sexually victimized: by the clergy (shut down all churches), teachers (shut down all schools), cops (eliminate all law enforcement agencies), etc. Of course I am being facetious, but it ought to show anyone with any sort of rational mind that it is just as stupid to suggest we attempt to abolish all consenting adult commercial sexual activity to prevent victims of child sexual abuse.

  2. Is it not respectful to tell the truth? Apparently you don’t like information on pedophile cops etc. So you would rather go with your trumped up nonsense on adult ads than print comments about the real source of child sexual abuse. Interesting, but not surprising.

    1. Ms. Almodovar, comments on this site are moderated, not posted automatically. There are often delays, given our small staff.

      1. I understand. I am sorry for being impatient. Unfortunately I have encountered far too many sites which do not want to post negative information about law enforcement agents- even the bad ones.

        I have nothing against good cops, but bad cops ought to be exposed any and every time they break the laws that they are supposed to enforce.

  3. There is a lot of controversy over the topics of sex trafficking, sex slavery, human trafficking and forced prostitution. Regarding what the definition is, the research methods used to find statistics, what the definition of a victim is, the number of child and adult victims involved, forced vs. unforced sex, how the actual prostitutes themselves feel about it, and legal vs. illegal prostitution.
    There is a growing number of well respected researchers, journalists, scientists, professors, that have concluded in their research that the sex trafficking, sex slavery concept is based on emotion, morals, and monetary funding rather than facts, evidence and proof. They state that very few kidnapped, forced against their will, physically abused, raped sex slave prostitutes for profit have been found throughout the world. Their research concludes that women who enter into this type of work do so of their own free will. They also state that there are many anti-prostitution groups who simply do not like the idea of consensual adult prostitution and have distorted the facts in order to push their agenda and receive funding and money into their organizations in the form of donations, grants and to change the laws about prostitution. They state that these anti-prostitution groups use made up child sex trafficking statistics which they have no proof or evidence of in order to gain public acceptance for their cause.

    Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:

  4. I feel there is a problem with Attorney Generals not going after PRESENT-CASES of minor-trafficking–instead of just pointing fingers at Backpage (which has a disclaimer on their site mentioning to report any obvious incidents of possible trafficking to Authorities)…Something just doesn’t seem right about the whole-story here! Perhaps another excuse to infringe on more rights and shut down free-advertising sites for men/women actually using Backpage legitimately? Something to wonder about, eh?

    1. I do agree that the Attorney General should be able to step in on situations that involve minors but constitutionally speaking, when people advertise they are protected under it and even though some children have ran away from home, you have to determine the laws of the state they reside, parental situations etc., some states allow the age of 14 as consent for the minor to have sexual relations, there is no doubt the situations exist but if laws are made to protect the innocent then the laws should be similar in design, a child can work at the age of 16 with parent consent but yet children often run away when they turn 13 or 14 making them vulnerable to this crime, why not allow for laws to allow younger working ages, allowing for them to apply for jobs etc. Also maybe even changing the laws to a higher age of consent? I do believe this is a catch 22 because kids being 18 dating a 16 year old then would be committing a crime, where does this crime become the line to what is right and wrong because really this is about age, prostitution, sexual consent etc. There are many contributing factors and this type of situation has been going on for centuries, long ago, age of marriage was 13 or 14, families usually married within the family due to money or wealth, Kings and Queens where usually brother and sister, or half brother and sister due to this reason, it has changed much since but has been practiced since before christian religion began and in some parts of the world it is still practiced, our opinions of what is right and wrong and the way we interpret the bible sets the tone of our judgement, we should step back really and really analyse these actions before just making up new laws just to make people who disagree and follow the bible or biblical law happy, this country was not based on any religions or any factors thereof, this country was based on everyone, freedoms to express, etc. even the fore fathers of this country engaged in prostitution acts during meetings etc. it is proven in historical documents etc. you can google them. Any way make certain that laws protect the innocent and ask the innocent, put it up for a vote by them whom it is effecting and no one else before you provide laws if they think it is just then change it. All laws should be for those whom agree, the constitution protects all who follow it, the other laws of this country is not really by any right legal according to the constitution. As for trafficking, slavery, human forced prostitution, make laws to prohibit too do just that of owning, forcing, to make money from another human by the means of anything sexual or cause to. Make the person that is the one who has to be punished by law, up the age of consent to another to 16 with a clause that anyone within 10 years of is not to be held to under that law if introduced and that no judge or jury can overcome this law in any court that the law has to be revoked or changed by a higher court prior to the charge for any type of action would be taken. I believe in freedom, but at what cost are we all going to allow all to be taken so that everyone will be happy? We might as well just sit in a corner and just watch, but then I may not like that person just sitting there because of the way they look, so lets make another law for that too.

  5. While sex trafficking may happen in very rare limited situations, the media will say that millions of people are sex slaves without doing any real research on the topic. Only taking the word of special interest anti-prostitution groups which need to generate money in the form of huge government grants from taxpayers, and charities.

    These “non profit” group’s employees make huge salaries, therefore they need to lobby the government, and inflate and invent victims in order to get more money into their organizations. If you look into how many real kidnapped forced against their will sex slaves there are, and not just take the anti-prostitution groups word for it. You will be very surprised.

    Where are all the forced sex slave prostitutes? I would like to meet the millions of slaves and see for myself if they were kidnapped and forced against their will to have sex for money.

    These anti-sex trafficking groups lobby the government in a big way, getting Politicians to truly believe their lies.

    This is an attempt to over inflate an issue in order to get more government money to these organizations.

    Sex trafficking is illegal and the pentities are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well.

    They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police. This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare.

    Here are some good websites about Sex Trafficking:

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