Authorities warn teens Kenosha remains hotspot for human trafficking

Infographic by Angelica Gonzalez

Experienced law enforcement agent describes traffickers as master manipulators

By Isabella Montemurro/Staff Writer

Reporter Isabella Montemurro

Sandwiched in between two major cities, Milwaukee and Chicago, the cities of Kenosha and Racine are seen as hubs for labor and sex trafficking crimes.

Just three months ago, two Kenosha County residents were among 14 men arrested in a human trafficking sting in Lake County, Ill.

In a separate case that’s drawn national attention, Chrystul Kizer, now 19, faces life in prison for killing in June 2018 her alleged sex trafficker, a Kenosha man who allegedly sexually abused about a dozen underage girls including Kizer when she was 16. Her court case is pending.

In Kenosha and Racine counties, a labor trafficking sting last spring uncovered a Georgia company that brought 14 Mexican nationals with visas here to work on farms, withheld their passports, threatened deportation and forced them to withstand horrible living and working conditions, Racine County court records show.

“Human Trafficking has been taking place for a long time,” said Lt. Joseph Nosalik,  public information officer and Internal Affairs investigator with the Kenosha Police Department.

“It is not something new; however, the advent of all of the social media platforms has enhanced the ability of traffickers to reach out and establish contact with a naïve, vulnerable population,” he said.

Locally, the Fight to End Exploitation, a nonprofit organization in Southeastern Wisconsin that brings awareness to the issue in communities and advocates for human trafficking victims, has worked with more than 340 local victims of human trafficking in the last four to five years.

Infographic by Angelica Gonzalez

Only a small percentage of victims are actually “taken,” not to imply that kidnapping doesn’t happen, but more cases have shown abusive, controlling, toxic relationships being the gateway for victims being forced into an unwanted, undesired, heinous lifestyle, said Detective Neal Lofy, who works in the Special Investigations Unit of the Racine Police Department.

Lofy is also president and co-founder of Fight to End Exploitation. And he is an anti-trafficking reformer and trainer who was  recognized in 2018 by the FBI with an “Unsung Hero Award.”

Lofy explained how difficult it is to pin down specific statistics on human trafficking locally, cautioning that statistics are often incomplete, not because they are wrong or gathered incorrectly, but for various reasons including a lack of longterm law enforcement training on the type of crime; lack of self-identifying victims; and lack of awareness of the overall scope of the problem.

“It’s a very transient population,” Lofy said. “We may have victims here in Wisconsin that tomorrow are in Indiana and then after that they’re down in Texas a couple days later and then they’re in California. And then on the flipside, we have victims here in Wisconsin from Colorado, so the numbers just aren’t good.“

“Traffickers are master manipulators, they’re going to do their homework”  Lofy said. “They know exactly how to get to the heart and soul of an individual and exploit them for gains for their own.”

High school students are in a fragile developmental stage as adolescents. They  want to meet new people, go to new places, seek validation on social media and from their peers. Teens also face issues such as substance abuse, the stress of school, relationships and the problems that follow, working jobs, going off to college. They strive to fit in and as a result grow more rebellious towards parents’ rules as they grow more as individuals in the world. These are all contributing factors to what makes them  vulnerable to criminals in the sex and labor trafficking industries.

“If your gut tells you something is off, it probably is. Trust it!” Lieutenant Nosalik said. “Tell someone, a school counselor, teacher, school resource officer, clergy, a friend’s parent … your own parent. Never communicate with someone you don’t know.  Never go to a person’s home, apartment, hotel room or car if you don’t know them.”

Parents and adults can become more proactive by having open communication and honest conversations with adolescents, knowing where they’re going and who they’re hanging out with and around. Overall, becoming more involved in an adolescent’s life and showing her  that she is  loved, cared for and supported is the best recipe for a  child to avoid any kind of harmful situation.

Some indicators that  a teen could be involved in human trafficking or in danger already is seeing major lifestyle changes in others, new clothes, a change in attitude and habits, problems with substance abuse and/or grades, not hanging out with their usual crowd. Often youth who are being trafficked do not see themselves as victims and may not even realize they are being trafficked.

“If there is one victim, it is one too many. Human trafficking is preventable … do your part and don’t become a statistic,” Nosalik said.

Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline to connect with services and support for human trafficking survivors, or to report a tip. Call 1-888-373-7888, text 233733, or chat online.