Milwaukee named hub of human trafficking

The commercial sex trade industry works like any other market, with supply and demand. Experts say that a stronger emphasis on deterring people from purchasing sex in Milwaukee would address a root cause of the problem.

Woman behind a metal fence

According to data provided by the Milwaukee Police Department, in 2015, 344 people were arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Milwaukee. Of those, 19 people participated in a “deferred prosecution” program instead of facing criminal charges, and 52 people were issued municipal citations for “loitering—soliciting prostitute.” In 2014, 407 were arrested, 52 completed the deferred prosecution program, and 57 were issued municipal citations.

As the number of arrests for prostitution has increased in recent years, from 65 in 2012 to 160 in 2014, the number of people arrested for soliciting a prostitute decreased by more than half, from 749 to 344. Milwaukee County community prosecutor Chris Ladwig attributed the dip in arrests of johns to programming aimed at reducing prostitution activity in Milwaukee, but he said that the numbers don’t indicate a decrease in people purchasing commercial sex. Rather, he said it could be that fewer are getting caught on the street as the crime goes further underground.

In fact, no data is available on the number of adult sex trafficking victims in Milwaukee, and there are only estimates of the number of minors at risk for trafficking. But experts say the extent of the problem is staggering.

Sgt. Theresa Janick, who investigates human trafficking cases in the city as a member of MPD’s prostitution unit, said that the sheer number of people who purchase sex makes it challenging for law enforcement to make a dent.

“There’s so much of it that it’s mind-blowing,” Janick said.

Read more of this special report from the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.