State lawmakers are floating an idea for how to crack down on human trafficking and prostitution. They're considering a bill that would enlist the help of truck drivers, whose routes take them throughout the state. An assembly committee is scheduled to vote on the item Wednesday. Some victims' advocates approve of the measure, but say the state should also employ other innovative strategies.
James L. Massey, Jr. has held a commercial driver's license for about two decades. He's clocked countless miles, on long-distance routes. He's often slept in his rig, in places like truck stop parking lots. That's where Massey says he's seen prostitutes at work. He says they offer their services to truckers, using the phrase "do you want some commercial company?"
“I'm trying to put a rough number as to how many women and girls I've had knock on the side of my truck. Numbers got to be right around 100, maybe more.”
Massey says he's always found the solicitations to be a nuisance -- and has yelled at the girls or women to move on. He says he only recently discovered the prostitutes probably are victims of human trafficking.
“After educating myself I learned the majority of these girls and women are sex slaves. Had I known then what I know now, I would have called the cops more often rather than just being annoyed because they're interrupting my sleep.”
Massey spoke at a recent state Assembly committee hearing. Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee also testified. She told the panel that Massey is far from the only trucker to witness human trafficking and prostitution at stops along the highway.
“Interstate 94 is known as a circuit by traffickers to transport victims from Chicago to Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, Minneapolis and North Dakota oil fields.” Johnson said.
The Assembly committee is considering a measure that would teach truckers how to recognize the problem. Bill sponsor, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, says the drivers are in a unique position.
“They travel to truck stops, weigh stations, gas stations, restaurants, thousands of miles more than the average person does, and this is where human trafficking often takes place.”
Kleefisch's bill would mandate education about the issue, in the courses some truckers take to obtain a commercial driver's license. He says a similar measure in Texas resulted in a huge increase in calls to a trafficking hotline.
Jeanne Geraci says she supports the bill -- but it doesn't go far enough. Geraci is director of the Benedict Center in Milwaukee; it helps women who are caught up in street prostitution and sex trafficking.
“I think it could be an important step and I hope that it’s part of a more comprehensive approach to what are all the things that the state of Wisconsin can do,” Geraci says.
Geraci says it takes a community-wide effort to tackle the problems of human trafficking and prostitution. She says in addition to the truck driver training, the state should provide more resources aimed at prevention -- and treatment.
"Targeting youth, runaway youth who are at the highest risk of falling into and becoming trafficked or becoming commercially sexually exploited and I think there needs to be more funding for the survivors for the support that they’re going to need to need forward, not just counseling and case management but also things like housing and job training,” Geraci says.
The state Assembly is expected to consider a number of bills that target prostitution. The committee vote on the truck driver education proposal is scheduled for Wednesday.