ASSIGNMENT 13: The child sex trafficking trade in Wisconsin

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Sex trafficking is something so troubling it can be hard for parents to imagine it happening to their child.

But right now there are hundreds of pre-teen and teen girls in Wisconsin being forced into a life of prostitution.

WEAU 13 News explored this underground world in a special Assignment 13 report.

“When I was 8 my friend’s father sexually abused me. I told my parents at the time and they didn't believe me. I was always bullied in school, badly. I didn't have that many friends,” said a woman, who only wanted to be identified as Amber.

When Amber was 11 years old she wanted to get away from it all, running away from home, hanging out in downtown Madison.

“I would spend the night with different guys down there. I would sleep with them for a place to stay. I was doing drugs, starting at 11,” said Amber.

She's 29 now, but Amber sat down with WEAU to talk about her terrifying experience in the sex trade.

“I was naive back then,” Amber said.

Wanting to get out of Wisconsin, she answered a job ad that led her to Chicago.

“The first pimp I ever met was there and he talked me out of the bus station. I was there for less than 30 minutes before he started talking to me,” Amber said.

From then she spent her teen years as a sex slave, selling her body, hooked on drugs, trafficked by two different pimps.

“I was walking doing the street work and a guy put a knife to my throat and took me somewhere and raped me. It really freaked me out. After I found my way back to where he was waiting for me, I expected him not to make me go out and work immediately. But that wasn't the case,” Amber said.

Amber said that was her breaking point.

When she was 18 she went to Project Respect in Madison, an organization that helps victims of sexual abuse become survivors.

“I'm very thankful that I made it out alive,” Amber said.

Estimates from the federal government show between 200,000 to 300,000 runaways are currently being used in child sex trafficking.

WEAU went down to Madison to talk to the Attorney General, about what's being done to stop this growing problem.

“This is taking place frequently right under our noses and we don't know about it. And it's something we need to focus on more and bring more attention to,” said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Van Hollen said trafficking is getting harder to battle because predators can reach vulnerable teens over the internet.

But he said the biggest target for pimps is runaways.

“Kids who have nowhere to turn, kids who are destitute, kids who are looking for a sense of belonging, food, shelter, someone to supposedly love them,” Van Hollen said.

This is happening to kids in cities big and small.

“If there is a major event or something is going on in the Eau Claire area, that the traffickers believe may be profitable for them to provide sex slaves or prostitutes, they may bring in girls from out of the area, and traffic them in that area,” Van Hollen said.

The Attorney General said the average of age of child being trafficked at the national level is 13 years old.

“Which tells you that half or somewhere in that ballpark of them are younger than 13 years of age,” Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen said he's asking for more money from the state for his department to fight this crime.

He wants more than $900,000 over the next two years, hiring agents and analysts to stop sex trafficking.

“I'm a firm believer that if we don't use those taxpayer dollars to protect the public and most importantly to protect our children against some of the worst offenses that could be committed against them, then what are we spending our tax dollars on?” Van Hollen said.

Some of that money would be used on educating law enforcement and the public on what to look out for.

“A lot of things you may write off to a teenager being a teenager or something else may not necessarily be the case and it may not be a drug abuse problem, there may be something else to it,” Van Hollen said.

Amber is now the mother of two kids.

“I do some volunteer work here at Respect and I’m part of the peer advisory group,” Amber said.

She tells her story, hoping it will help girls trapped in the hell she was once in.

“I would just say that you don't have to struggle alone, you can come in and everyone is very accepting and just get help,” Amber said.

The Attorney General's request for sex trafficking resources is part of Wisconsin state budget that will soon be voted on by lawmakers.

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