A state report released this fall details how serious human trafficking is in Wisconsin.
UW-La Crosse is hosting a conference on the issue today. Human trafficking is defined as taking people against their will and forcing them into a service, like sex trade or forced labor.
La Crosse County prosecutors have seen just one trafficking case - last year, they sent a Milwaukee man to prison after he was caught selling two underage girls for sex in an Onalaska hotel.
Just because cases have been few and far between here doesn’t mean the issue doesn’t exist.
According to county district attorney Tim Gruenke, victims are often fearful to speak up.
"The women or children who are forced into it aren't going to call for the same reason they're stuck in it – they’re afraid, or they're being forced into this,” Gruenke said.
“They feel they’ll be in trouble, or that they’ll be punished somehow,” said lawyer Chuck Berendes.
That’s not stopping one local nun from trying to make a difference.
Sister Marlene Weisenbeck is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and she’s been fighting human trafficking across the country. We worked on an advisory council with President Barack Obama on the issue. Just this week, she returned from a trip to Rome for a human trafficking conference. Now, she’s bringing her knowledge back to La Crosse.
"We know very little about what's going on about human trafficking here in the Coulee region,” she said.
Sister Weisenbeck has begun her own coalition against human trafficking in the area. The coalition is in the beginning phases and is looking to first collect data on the issue in the Coulee region, but Sister Weisenbeck plans to continue forging ahead.
“It's a topic that grips your heart,” she said. “Therefore, once you know something, you cannot say no."