Introducing the Empower Youth Program for Teens

By Carrie Swartz

Office Administrator

Minors are a target audience in the scope of Fierce Freedom’s human sex trafficking education and prevention outreach, and for good reason. The average age of entry into trafficking is 11-14 years old for both boys and girls (www.preventionproject.org), and between 100,000 and 300,000 minors fall victim to sex trafficking each year in the U.S. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), which is likely an underestimation due to the hidden nature of the crime. In response to the ongoing need for youth-specific human trafficking educational resources, Fierce Freedom has adopted iEmpathize’s Empower Youth Program for Teens as a recommended resource for members of our community working with and educating youth.

The Empower Youth Program for Teens came to Fierce Freedom’s attention via Jodi Emerson, Fierce Freedom’s Director of Public Policy and Community Relations. Jodi serves as a member of the Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, which was formed in December 2015 with the purpose of developing a coordinated, comprehensive plan to address human trafficking of youth in the state. The task force has since identified the Empower Youth Program as a recommended curriculum, prompting Fierce Freedom to preview the program for possible use.

The iEmpathize website explains, “Educators, parents, and youth service providers can utilize this five-part series of short films, activities, and discussion questions to empower teens 7th grade and up to successfully navigate the vulnerabilities in their lives in order to stay safe from exploitation.” The films are narrated by and include interviews with teens who have overcome difficult life circumstances using strategies from the program, making each of the five one-hour sessions relatable and engaging. The program is unique- while it does address specific dangers of sex trafficking, it also takes a broad approach in teaching youth how to protect themselves from exploitation in general. Participants learn how to recognize various tactics that an unsafe person might use to lure them into a bad situation, and tips to identify a trustworthy adult whom they might reach out to for help.

The program also directs youth to identify their personal, unique “vulnerabilities,” and how an unsafe person might target those vulnerabilities to exploit them. According to Shared Hope International, “Age is the primary factor of vulnerability. [Youth] are more susceptible to the calculated advances, deception, and tactics used by traffickers/ pimps- no youth is exempt from falling prey to these tactics.” Other vulnerabilities could include personal factors (such as poverty or an unstable family environment), environmental factors (such as violent communities or neglectful homes), or personality factors (such as low self-esteem or difficulty making friends) (www.iEmpathize.org).

Looking deeper into the profiles of children who are sex trafficked, for example, there are factors (vulnerabilities) that help us understand which youth are at highest risk. Those factors include, but are not limited to: children who frequently run away, children who have experienced childhood sexual abuse (especially if the abuse was unreported, untreated, or resulted in the child being removed from the home), children with significant substance abuse issues (or who live with someone who has significant substance abuse issues), and children who identify as LGBTQ and have been kicked out or stigmatized by their family (The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).

The Empower Youth Program teaches a core concept of empathy, encouraging youth to actively respond to the suffering of others (rather than responding with apathy or having an inactive response). Ironically, the same life experiences that can make a young person vulnerable to being trafficked can also make them vulnerable to becoming a bully or a trafficker themselves. iEmpathize states, “boys and men are often groomed to become victimizers… youth need positive alternatives to the deceptive and coercive options that exploitative people may otherwise offer them.” Through the program, participants are encouraged to put themselves in another person’s shoes, and to reach out in a positive way to offer positive support to others.

iEmpathize does charge an annual fee for using the curriculum, based on the number of students being taught (scholarships are available). Fierce Freedom will be purchasing the curriculum on a small scale (at least to start), with plans to teach the 5-part series for the first time at the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center in early 2018. While we are excited to teach the curriculum ourselves, our greater objective is to get the curriculum into the hands of educators and other community organizations who work with youth so they can teach it to the youth that they work with. In doing so, the number of students reached will be multiplied.

To learn more about the Youth Empowerment Program for Teens for possible use in your sphere of influence, visit www.iempathize.org or contact Carrie Swartz at Fierce Freedom.

Legislative Update: Human Trafficking Gaining Attention Among Legislators

By Jodi Emerson

Director of Public Policy and Community Relations

2017 has been a busy anti-trafficking legislative year! We are thrilled with the attention that human trafficking is getting from elected officials at both the state and national level.

Fierce Freedom is not a lobbying group but we do advocate for stronger laws to fight human trafficking. This advocacy work is not a large part of what we do but it is an important part. There are not many groups out there fighting on behalf of the voiceless and we take this job very seriously. When we look at proposed legislation we keep two things in mind: first, whether the law will help or harm victims of trafficking, and second, whether the law will hold accountable those who are willing to buy and sell others.

We gave you an update on both Federal and State legislation in August (please see our website to review that article), so we will not cover the details of the bills proposed at that time. However, we will give you an update on their status.

Federal Legislation:

The two bills we have been following are the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficker Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). These bills were originally written to close the loopholes in Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act that prevented victims of trafficking from suing websites that profited from their exploitation. Recently, FOSTA has been amended at the urging of tech companies and this bill no longer has our support. We are still behind SESTA and urge Congress to pass this bill.

Wisconsin Legislation:

On December 8th Governor Walker signed 3 bills into law that help fight the demand for human trafficking. The first bill, SB 300, makes it a crime to ask a minor for an “intimate representation” (such as an intimate photo). Under previous law, it was only a crime once someone had possession of that photo. The second bill, SB 308, makes it a felony for the third offense of patronizing a prostitute (the first two offenses are misdemeanors). It is currently a misdemeanor to patronize a prostitute no matter how many previous offenses. The third bill, SB 396, gives law enforcement an additional option for charging adults who buy sex from minors called “patronizing a child,” which is a felony.

Several other bills have been introduced. The first, AB 540/SB 444, would mandate that technical colleges add information about human trafficking into truck driver training curriculum. We were pleased to be able to testify in favor of that bill this fall. The second bill, AB 634/SB 541, has been introduced which would enable law enforcement to serve hotels with administrative subpoenas in the case of suspected human trafficking. These types of subpoenas are already used for tech companies and other entities but this bill would expand the list to hotels as well.

The third bill is one that we are eager to see passed. AB 186/ SB 344 has unanimously passed the Assembly Committee but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate. This bill would make it so that people under the age of 18 cannot be charged with prostitution. If you recall, last year we passed a law that made prostitution of children child abuse. Under our current law, children can still be charged with a crime for the abuse that is happening to them. This bill closes that loophole and treats victims of child sex trafficking as victims. Please contact your state senators and assembly people and ask them to help get this bill passed.

2017 has been a busy year and we are looking forward to a productive 2018 as well!

Fierce Freedom Positioned to Expand its Reach

By Jenny Almquist

Fierce Freedom Co-Founder and Executive Director

A year ago, I would have never dreamed that as an organization we would be positioned as we are – in a truly strategic way to make change in the state of Wisconsin. As you read through this newsletter you will read about opportunities for change in the world of fighting human trafficking at many levels; not only in Wisconsin but across the upper Midwest with opportunities for even further reach.

If you are not aware, three bills were signed into law just last week by Governor Walker to give law enforcement tools to fight against domestic human sex trafficking. Mindsets, along with laws, are changing fast in our great state and I am thrilled that Fierce Freedom is part of that change! Because of this we have more requests than we could possibly fill for educational presentations. As a result, we are working hard at training volunteers and staff to help meet that need. One way we are doing that is developing online training for people to become Fierce Freedom Advocates. Once a person completes the training program, they will have access to Fierce Freedom training resources and be ready to give presentations and educate in their community. Can you even imagine the potential to bring change to communities across our country? This is in the works right now and we are very excited about this program.

Also, in the coming year, we will begin to educate about labor trafficking in the upper-Midwest. Until now, we have focused primarily on sex trafficking. However, labor and sex trafficking overlap and we are missing an educational opportunity if we address one and not the other. We have a lot of work to do among the agriculture industry, food and tourism industries – and we are prepared to do just that.

In this newsletter, you will see information about our 7th Annual Night of Freedom and Hope. Please make plans to join us, and bring everyone you know. The night will center around stories of people impacted by trafficking – stories of hope and healing. You won’t want to miss this!

I would like to assure each of you that as we fight against human trafficking and all the horrors that come with it, we see much good too. Good people who make changes in their lives to purchase fair trade items, help others understand that pornography destroys lives, men and women getting help for those addictions and of course much, much more. It is difficult to see immediate change but looking back over the past 10 years we see that those changes, big and small, have made a huge difference in our culture. Thank you for the ways you have worked to encourage those changes. Keep up the good work!!

Year-End Giving Invitation/ The first $7500 will be matched!

Dear Friend,

Thanks to your support, Fierce Freedom has been able to bring awareness and promote education of human trafficking in our communities. As we near the end of this year, we are especially thankful for the many generous donations to our organization that allow us to continue to work toward the end of human trafficking. We are busy planning for the upcoming year to further our efforts, and today we are launching our 2017 year-end donation campaign to make our work possible.

The Super Bowl is coming to Minnesota in 2018! Although this is an exciting event, it also brings the need for awareness of Human Trafficking in our community. This year Fierce Freedom launched the Be Aware Campaign, a partnership with Visit Eau Claire and the Eau Claire Police Department to raise awareness about and promote education of human trafficking in the tourism industry. Since launching that endeavor many other communities have asked us to bring the campaign to them, an effort that will require additional resources on our part. Please join us by supporting our efforts to let traffickers know they are unwelcome in our hometowns.

Every day, your support allows us to reach our community, lawmakers, politicians, law enforcement, medical workers, teachers and more. This year alone we accomplished many initiatives, among them assisting the city of Eau Claire in developing a response plan for human trafficking victims; developing a statewide anti-human trafficking curriculum; devising an Eau Claire school district anti-human trafficking protocol; developing programming to fight human trafficking within the faith community; co-chairing a statewide human trafficking work group that is creating and implementing policy to address human trafficking across Wisconsin; and working with northern Wisconsin communities to assess the need for anti-trafficking initiatives in that part of the state.

Your support helps those and other programs become realities. In 2018, our plans include expanding the following programs:

  • Launch Fierce Freedom Advocates. This program will provide training and certification for individuals around the U.S. to teach and train for Fierce Freedom, expanding our reach.
  • Offer a program of support to survivors who want to work with Fierce Freedom.
  • Expand the Be Aware Campaign beyond the Chippewa Valley.
  • Extend our reach of education to northern and northeast Wisconsin.

That’s why our goal for this campaign is to raise at least $20,000 by December 31. In fact, the first $7500 donated in this campaign will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling your impact! But we can’t do it alone, we need your help to make it happen.

Would you be willing to make a special year-end donation of $50, $100 or whatever you can afford to help us meet our goal? Please visit www.fiercefreedom.org and click on the “donate” tab to make a donation today. We simply can’t do it without you. Your support will make a real, lasting impact in our community for generations to come.

Thank you for your continued support and friendship.

 

With gratitude,

Jennifer McBride

Jennifer McBride

President

Fierce Freedom

January- Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Fierce Freedom has several events planned to increase awareness in the Chippewa Valley. All events are FREE and open to the public. Please join us!

WEDNESDAY JANUARY 10th, 6-7:30 PM KEEPING KIDS SAFE IN A DIGITAL AGE
ST JOHN’S LUTHERAN CHURCH, EAU CLAIRE

THURSDAY JANUARY 11TH, 4-7 PM FIERCE FREEDOM OPEN HOUSE
FIERCE FREEDOM, ALTOONA
*Stop by to learn more about Fierce Freedom and how you can engage in the fight against local human trafficking

WEDNESDAY JANUARY 17TH, 9 AM – 4 PM COOKIES FOR COPS COOKIE DROP-OFF
2 DROP-OFF LOCATIONS:
FIERCE FREEDOM, 2519 N HILLCREST PKWY STE 100, ALTOONA WI 54720
THRIVENT FINANCIAL, 1509 STOUT RD SUITE 200, MENOMONIE WI 54751
*Please drop off cookies to either location and Fierce Freedom staff will deliver them to local law enforcement agencies. This is a great way for Fierce Freedom to connect with local law enforcement on the issue of human trafficking.

TUESDAY JANUARY 30TH, 1:30-3 PM MANDATED REPORTER TRAINING- SEX TRAFFICKING UPDATES TO CHILD ABUSE LAW
LE PHILLIPS MEMORIAL PUBLIC LIBRARY, EAU CLAIRE
*Updates have been made to Wisconsin child abuse law to include mandates for reporting suspected cases of human sex trafficking.

WEDNESDAY JANUARY 31ST, 6-7:30 PM KEEPING KIDS SAFE IN A DIGITAL AGE
PEACE LUTHERAN CHURCH, PIGEON FALLS

Fierce Freedom testimony on AB 186, Safe Harbor

Thank you to Chairman Kitchens and the committee for listening to the testimony of myself and others today about AB 186. My name is Jodi Emerson and I am the Director of Public Policy and Community Relations for Fierce Freedom. Fierce Freedom is a non-profit, based in Eau Claire that raises awareness and educates the public about domestic human trafficking.

 

Fierce Freedom does not offer direct services such as counseling or shelter, but we do take an active role in fighting this crime by talking to members of the community and our state about what this crime is and teaching them how someone could ever end up in a situation in which they are forced or coerced into selling their body.  One of the best parts of my job is when I get to meet with school-age kids. I teach them the warning signs, talk about how traffickers groom their victims and we discuss how they can safely intervene if a friend or someone they know could be in a trafficking situation. At one such presentation four years ago, I had a girl ask me a question that I didn’t have an answer then and I still don’t today. She asked, “If you are forced to do something, how can you be arrested for it?” That question has haunted me since. Why would she ask that? Who was forcing her to do something and what were they doing? Most importantly, how can we change this in Wisconsin?

 

By prosecuting children for a crime that is done to them, we are sending a mixed message as a state. Last year, Governor Walker signed Act 367 into law that made prostitution of a child, child abuse and mandates that DCF must investigate those situations. As part of the Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, we have worked hard to make sure the message being spread around the state is that these children are victims, and we need to get them the services they need. I call your attention to the Indicator and Response Guide that was developed by the Task Force. It clearly states that sexual exploitation and child sex trafficking are forms of abuse and need to be treated as such. It instructs the reader to contact child protective services, it does not instruct the reader to make sure this child is locked up in jail. I challenge you to come up with any other situation in which someone is the victim of abuse and we prosecute them for the abuse that happens to them. It doesn’t happen in any other form of child abuse, and it shouldn’t happen with sex trafficking.

 

Criminalizing children for sex trafficking sends them the message they are responsible for their victimization. We are going to retraumatize children by arresting, interrogating and prosecuting them for a crime that was done to them, not by them. We are not talking about child prostitutes. Children cannot consent, so they cannot sell their bodies. What we are talking about is child sex trafficking, or to put it bluntly people paying to rape Wisconsin’s children.

 

By passing AB 186, we are simply following in the footsteps of many other states. According to Shared Hope International, a leader in the anti-human trafficking movement, 22 states and the District of Columbia currently offer full protection for minors. Two other states offer protection for children 16 and under. Three of the four states that we share a border with have protections for child victims of sex trafficking that we do not have.

 

As someone who is from the western part of the state, we often compare ourselves to Minnesota. When we are talking about professional football, Wisconsin wins that contest no problem. But when it comes to protected exploited children, we have a lot of work to do. According to reports from the Minnesota Department of Health, which houses the Safe Harbor Program, in 2011 7 people were convicted of sex trafficking in that state. Minnesota passed its Safe Harbor program in 2011 and saw immediate dividends.  In 2012, 31 people were convicted of trafficking and in 2013, 63 people were convicted. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2016 that came out last week, Minnesota saw 235 human trafficking offenses and 191 of those were cleared. Compare that to Wisconsin, which saw 34 human trafficking offenses and 19 were cleared. That is a big difference. Talking to those in Minnesota in the past, they attribute the rise in convictions to the fact that underage victims of trafficking are no longer afraid of prosecution and are more likely to cooperate with law enforcement to help build the complex cases that result in convictions against traffickers.

 

I would also like to point out that the US State Department each year puts out a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for every country in the world, including our own. Each country is evaluated not only on the level of trafficking that happens within its borders but also the laws that are in place to protect people and serve victims. The top recommendation in 2015 for the US was to “Encourage the adoption of victim-centered policies at the state and local levels that ensure victims, including children, are not punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking.” In 2016 the TIP report stated that for the US “Challenges remain……victims should not be penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking.”

 

I understand that trafficking of children seems unreal, and that it can’t happen in Wisconsin but I assure you it is happening every day in our state. As I talk to people around the state, I like to put this horrible crime in terms they would understand. For this bill, the best analogy I’ve found is: Imagine you are sitting at a stop light and a car comes barreling up behind you and rear-ends your car pushing you through the red light. You didn’t want that to happen but you were forced into that situation. Are you going to be ticketed by the police for running a red light or do they understand that there are extenuating circumstances? Every year children of our state are arrested for something they didn’t want to do but were forced to do. Please help us strengthen Wisconsin’s laws so that this won’t happen anymore. Help us protect Wisconsin’s children.

 

Wisconsin Legislation

AB 186/SB 344: This bill is commonly known as the Safe Harbor bill and we are 100% behind it. This bill would not allow children under the age of 18 to be charged with prostitution. Last session, we were able to get prostitution of a child classified as child abuse, so this bill is the next logical step. If a child is a victim of abuse, how can they be charged for the abuse they suffered? This bill has the support of Wisconsin’s Attorney General and Department of Justice, along with bipartisan sponsorship. We have been working on getting a bill like this passed for over 4 years now and hope this is the year it will finally happen! Bill text can be found here

AB 400/SB 308: This bill would increase the penalty for patronizing a prostitute from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class I felony if they have been convicted of this crime twice in the past.  Fierce Freedom supports this bill because it helps fight the demand for sexual exploitation. Bill text can be found here

AB 435: This bill would create a $5,000 surcharge for anyone convicted of soliciting or patronizing a prostitute, pandering or keeping a place of prostitution. The funds from this would be used for victim services and to help fund specialized law enforcement operations. Bill text can be found here

On the surface this seems like a good law. We do have our concerns that some of the parts included could be used to charge prostitutes and not just the buyers of sex. We also have concerns because bills like this have been proposed in the past but haven’t been passed because they are cumbersome to administer and difficult to collect fines incurred.

One to watch: There is another bill in draft form that would create a new law to give higher penalties to those that patronize a prostitute who is under the age of 18. Because this bill is only in draft form, there is no bill number associated with it yet. We agree with the concept of this law but do not want to see this passed. We are making progress in the state to get people to see that children cannot be prostitutes, they are not old enough to legally consent so therefore cannot be prostitutes and we fear putting a law like this on the books would take our state back a few steps in regards to victim care.

There are currently other laws on the books like child enticement or trafficking of a child that would cover situations laid out in the proposed law. We feel this law is unnecessary, redundant and would reinforce the mistaken idea that children can be prostitutes. If a child is being prostituted, it is child abuse and by creating a law that deals with patronizing a child prostitute, Wisconsin is sending the wrong message. We are opposed to this bill.

Federal Legislation

Our main goal with federal legislation is to help close the loopholes that allow companies like Backpage.com to make millions of dollars from advertising the trafficking of children. If you have not seen the movie “I Am Jane Doe”, we highly recommend you do so as it spells out the legal arguments much better than we can.

The problem with closing these loopholes is to not inadvertently limit free speech and protections for third party communication companies that are listed under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act (CDA).

Our argument is that CDA was meant to protect companies like Google or Facebook from being held liable for comments that people are saying on their sites. However, in our opinion, when you accept money and approve ads (like Backpage does) you are no longer an innocent third party but are an active member in the transaction.

Right now, there are two bills before Congress that address this problem. S. 1693 (also known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and H.R. 1865 (also known as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act). Neither Senators Baldwin or Johnson have signed on as sponsors of SB 1693 and Congressmen Kind and Duffy are not sponsors of HB 1865. Our office has spoken with representatives of Baldwin’s and Kind’s offices and they are considering the exact language to determine if they will support these bills or not. We have not received a response from Johnson’s or Duffy’s offices.

Upcoming Events

8/22 – LaCrosse Task Force Training, LaCrosse WI

9/7 – Internet Safety for Kids, Menomonie WI

9/15 – Sara Groves Benefit Concert, Eau Claire WI

*If you would like to volunteer for this event, contact carrie@fiercefreedom.org

9/18 – Dunn County Health Coalition, Menomonie WI

10/17 – Stanley Correctional Facility In-service

10/19 – Fierce Freedom Board of Directors Meeting

10/20 – Western Dairyland Training, Eau Claire WI

10/29 – Menomonie Methodist Church, Menomonie WI

11/18 & 19  – Freedom Boutique, Altoona WI

*If you would like to volunteer for this event, contact carrie@fiercefreedom.org

12/6 – UWEC Continuing Education, Next Steps to Fight Human Trafficking in WI: What Professionals Need to Know

Educating At-Risk Youth in Juvenile Detention

By: Jenny Almquist

I’m pretty sure it was one of the most humbling days of my life. Last week I went with one of our interns to speak with a group of youth at the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center (JDC).  I supposed I hadn’t prepared myself; how could I have, really? I had never been in a facility like that in my life and I didn’t know what to expect.

We walked into the building and rode the elevator to the third floor. We waited for several minutes to be accompanied into the JDC part of the building. As we waited, they came out one by one – out from their cells. That’s right, cells. These kids have done some pretty bad stuff. One young man had already been there for four months.

We had less than an hour with the youth, five of them. I am not sure how many youth were in the building that day, but five had earned the privilege to come out and listen to us. They seemed happy to be there – maybe it was the two bags of candy in my hand.

I was humbled at the opportunity to speak with a truly vulnerable part of our society. Statistics show us that these young people are at risk to either become victims of human trafficking or to victimize and become traffickers.

Our newest employee, Carrie Swartz, will be working with these kids on a regular basis. Her background in Social Work and her experience with teaching at risk youth will benefit her as she writes curriculum to speak to the specific needs of these youth.

Thank you to the staff of the Northwest Regional JDC for the work that you do, for working with and investing in the lives of these kids. And thank you for giving us the opportunity to have a positive influence on them as well.

Fierce Freedom’s Mission is to educate, that is what we do. Did you know that we speak to groups such as:

Area police departments

Medical staff

Staff at local jails

Teachers at private and public schools (and students at those schools)

Civic organizations such as Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs

Church staff and youth groups

And more…

We also have specialized presentations such as:

Human Trafficking 101

Middle School and High School Prevention and Awareness

How to talk to your kids about tough subjects (Pornography, human trafficking, sexting, etc.)

Connections between pornography and human trafficking

Faith Community’s role in fighting human trafficking

How to talk to community leaders

Movie screenings with guided discussions