Human trafficking is widespread and happening locally, a representative of a Madison awareness group told listeners in an Oct. 8 virtual community meeting.

Ron Heinrich, of SlaveFree Madison, led the first of a two-part series on human trafficking. The next event is in November. The series, “Human Trafficking in Our Own Backyard,” is being co-sponsored by StoughtonCARES, Belleville Area Cares, Cottage Grove Cares, Northwest Dane Cares, Deerfield Cares, McFarland RADAR and Monona Cares.

Heinrich began by acknowledging that the subject “is not easy to talk about.” He said his group’s primary focus is “to raise awareness of human trafficking in Dane County,” and said there are other local groups that work with survivors and fill other roles.

Heinrich spoke about the similarities and differences between two types of trafficking: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.

Heinrich said it’s important for middle and high school youth to have accurate information about their risk of being trafficked.

He said data is inconsistent and hard numbers elusive, but it’s believed that of tens of millions of people trafficked worldwide in recent years, about 75 percent went exploited for labor purposes. Females and people of color, he said, are most likely to be sex-trafficked.

He said sex trafficking is profitable because victims’ services can be sold multiple times a day. And he said abductions account for only a small percentage of those who are trafficked.

“That is not the primary way that traffickers access those that they want to traffick,” Heinrich said.

Rather, with about half of those sex-trafficked under the age of 18, “traffickers are hanging out at places that kids hang out,” Heinrich said, and connecting with kids online. “They know how to manipulate kids,” he said.

He said factors that increase vulnerability for youth are social media use, lack of a social support network, low self esteem/confidence, willingness to take risks, doing poorly in school and identifying as LGBTQ.

The second part of the series is Wednesday, Nov. 11, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The speaker will be Theresa Flores, the author of Slave Across the Street. The meeting will be held by Zoom. The meeting ID is 895 9770 8017. The passcode is 563812.

Additional information can be found on the following websites:

stoughtoncares.org, radarmc.com, bellevillewicares.org, mononacares.org, cottagegrovecares.org, deer eldcares.com, and nwdccwi.net

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