Bringing awareness to human trafficking in the Chippewa Valley

ALTOONA, Wis. (WEAU) -- January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the United States.

Here in the Chippewa Valley, Fierce Freedom says human trafficking happens more often than one might think.

The non-profit says during the last two years, they've worked with more than 50 victims of human trafficking locally.

A newly released report by the Wisconsin DOJ says that in 2018 there were 90 referred cases of human trafficking to district attorney's throughout the state.

"Many people assume it's something that only happens in large cities, and it absolutely happens in large cities. But it also has been reported in every county in Wisconsin, so that does mean that it is happening in those rural communities as well," said PR and Program Coordinator for Fierce Freedom Cat Jacoby.

Since 2008, Fierce Freedom has been working throughout the Chippewa Valley to educate the community and raise awareness on human trafficking in western Wisconsin.

"It's estimated that there are more slaves today than there were when Lincoln was President and so it's just gone underground. So when we're talking about human trafficking we're talking about anytime that force, fraud, or coercion is used. So that could be labor trafficking or sex trafficking, it has many different forms," explained Jacoby.

Since Jan. 2018, Fierce Freedom has worked with 54 victims of human trafficking locally.

Jacoby says there's a wide variety of people who fall victim to human trafficking.

The victims Fierce Freedom have worked with over the last two years are both males and females, and range in ages from four years old to 60.

"We always say that education is key and I really do think that it's so important and that's our bread and butter. Because I think if people aren't aware of it, they're not going to know how to fight it, how to report it," said Jacoby.

She says that everyone has a role to play in fighting human trafficking, and adds that if you see something suspicious report it to law enforcement and try and give as many details as possible.

She adds popular spots for human traffickers are hotels and truck stops.

"Maybe you see a younger woman who isn't appropriately dressed for the weather. So it's January so she's not wearing a winter coat, or things like that. Maybe there are signs of physical abuse but they have a very hard time communicating with you, making eye contact," said Jacoby.

Saturday Fierce Freedom will be holding an event at the Pablo Center a the Confluence called "Hidden in Plain Sight".

It will address myths surrounding human trafficking, and show the community how to fight it.