Wisconsin Task Force on Human Trafficking looks to help volunteers, not just law enforcement

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(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s new task force on human trafficking is looking at whether law enforcement agencies throughout the state need to make their jobs easier. But one lawmaker says the legislature needs to look beyond cops and prosecutors.

The Speaker’s Task Force on Human Trafficking welcomed several private, non-profit advocates at its latest meeting Wednesday.

State Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, said volunteers play a critical role in supporting the victims of human trafficking and the state cannot leave them behind.

“This will be the hill I die on, to make sure that we are taking care of everybody in the justice system, whether it’s advocates, or volunteers, or things like that, because it is really, really hard work that you do,” Emerson said.

Two advocates, Lisa Sennholz and Kelly Olson, with the Damascus Road Project, said burnout among volunteers and advocates is a real problem.

“It is the hardest thing when somebody else is in crisis to not respond,” Olson said. “I can’t think of a time in either of our lives in the last few years where we’ve had even one complete day that had nothing to do with Damascus Road in it for a whole day.”

The task force is in the middle of a series of hearings. Wednesday the Task Force was in Oshkosh. The goal is to look at “new or additional tools” that the legislature can provide.

Kasla Klaus with Awaken Wisconsin told the task force their operation in Nevada has added a full-time therapist for staff members because of the stress and secondary trauma involved in the job.

“It’s not an easy road to walk with these women,” Klass said. “And unfortunately, most of us who have hearts take on a lot of that guilt, and a lot of that stress.”

Emerson did not say Wednesday just what kind of help she may consider offering from the state.

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