(WAOW) — There were over 50 sex trafficking cases reported in Wisconsin in 2018.
Officials believe there are still many that go unnoticed.
Every day, many women and even young girls are sent out to have sex for money.
“You see it all the time but it’s just hidden in plain sight.” said Nancy Yarbrough.
Yarbrough’s path of sex trafficking started off a little differently, stemming from her first sexual experience — being raped by someone she knew.
“I started having a lot of self-blame, so when I got the opportunity to come into the life of sexual exploitation, it was a no-brainer for me because I had so much power stripped from me. I felt this was a way of taking that power back,” she said.
At first, Yarbrough didn’t look at it like she was a victim. Instead, for some time she said the ball was in her court.
“The fact that now I’m shining and I have power and people like me, nobody’s taking advantage of me and I’m doing it because I want to,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough said drugs were a driving force to continue that life.
“By the time I was 17, I was fully addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol,” she said. “At that point, I was starting to be groomed to go into the aura of having sexual exchanges for something in value was drugs and to please the guy I was with.”
This is a trend that Wausau Police Officer Sarah D’Aquisto said she sees too often.
“We see a lot of them. A lot of them have a romeo pimp or a boyfriend pimp, that’s what we see most often,” D’Aquisto said.
Yarbrough said she was be with up to 10 men a night because of her pimp, also known as ‘Johns’.
“He was the one that made me feel like anything he said could come true. He fed such a fairy tale to me that I bought it,” Yarbrough said.
Until, one night, that fairy tale turned into a nightmare for Yarbrough.
Yarbough said one night her pimp wasn’t satisfied about how much money she made and started to hit her.
Officer D’Aquisto said most often the victims aren’t from the area.
“We see a lot of victims or perceived victims are transient, so a lot of them aren’t specific to the Wausau area. They might be coming from other cities, so they are staying for a brief amount of time,” D’Aquisto said.
“For Wisconsin it’s in all 72 counties. I was in so many different places that I didn’t even know where we were. I was so high that I didn’t know I would be on the road at truck stops,” Yarbrough said.
So, how do we keep young women and girls from being prey?
“If they are maybe disgruntled or having a hard day, and if they are putting that stuff on social media rather than talking to their parents, anybody online can see that stuff. Somebody that’s disgruntled and putting their life out there, those are the ones that the traffickers are going to target because they are easy to know,” said Brenda Bayer, a trafficking advocate for the Women’s Community.
Bayer paints a typical picture on what sex trafficking may look like in the central Wisconsin area.
“It could be happening to somebody living next door, a young 15-year-old girl who gets picked up at grandma’s house Friday night and she’s gone all weekend and dropped off Sunday afternoon,” Bayer said.
Yarbrough was able to free herself from the life. She now works as an activist and a voice for others who may not be able to speak out.
“I think penalties should be stronger on both parties. It takes two of those men to make that one person’s life miserable,” Yarbrough.
In Wausau, the first time a John is caught they get a citation. However, Wisconsin legislators are bringing back a bill that would fine anyone convicted of patronizing, pandering or soliciting prostitutes a $5,000 fine.
Engaging in trafficking is considered a felony in the state of Wisconsin.
Yarbrough said it is crucial for anyone to speak up if they see something unusual, even suggesting a simple call to the police for a welfare check on a place that may be a hub for sex trafficking.
A simple hunch could end up helping save a life.