From Green Bay to Grand Chute, Milwaukee to Madison, police say the problem of human trafficking is real and it's growing.
Nicole tells FOX 11 On Special Assignment she knows it first-hand.
"Right now at this moment, some girl is being beat. Some girl is being forced to have sex with a man that she doesn't want to. It's rape to me," she said. "There are many times I felt like I'm being raped and I'm letting it happen."
We are only using her first name in this story because Nicole tells FOX 11 On Special Assignment she is a victim of sex trafficking.
- Click here for more information on human trafficking from the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Click here to watch an extended interview with a woman who tells FOX 11 On Special Assignment she is a victim of sex trafficking
What is sex trafficking? It is when somebody, usually a woman, is forced to have sex with people for money. We tend to think of that as prostitution. But many times, the women involved say they were forced into the life when they were very young and don't see a way out.
When asked what the life is really like, Nicole replied, "It's disgraceful. It's not glamorous. It destroys people's hearts."
Nicole was raised in the Fox Cities. After a troubled childhood, in which she tells FOX 11 On Special Assignment she was physically and sexually abused, she ran away and ended up on the streets of Milwaukee. She was just 17.
"I ended up being sold by a drug dealer who at the time I thought was helping me, wanted to give me a place where I would be comfortable and stable. He ended up selling me to a pimp who took me in and taught me what it was to what he wanted me to do," she said.
Nicole says what he wanted her to do was bring in $1,000 a day as a prostitute.
"He would send us to Chicago on a bus every night. The night I didn't come up with the money I decided I wasn't going to go back because I knew I was going to get severely beat," Nicole said.
With no family to help her and with nowhere else to turn, Nicole stayed in Chicago where she soon met another man.
"He convinced me that I would be a model," Nicole said. "He would send me on dates with men that were rich. I wouldn't have to do anything, that I would be eye candy, that I was really a model."
Nicole says it turned out to all be a lie and says she was brain-washed and forced into prostitution.
When asked if she was threatened by the man, Nicole replied, "Oh yeah."
"We were threatened," she added. "There were rules you had to follow or you could die. They would tell you they would kill you. They would tell you they would kill your family. They beat you with belts, with bats, with hammers."
So what's being done about the problem? Quite a bit and, at the same time, not nearly enough. Police are trying to crack down on it and support groups are trying to help victims. But sex trafficking is still growing.
"We have a huge problem with it," said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. He wants to hire more agents to deal specifically with child sex trafficking.
"We're not talking about just 16 or 17-year-old girls," Van Hollen said. "If the average age is 13, which is young enough in and of itself, that tells us that roughly half are under 13. We have infants and toddlers that are being trafficked for deviant, sexual purposes. That's absolutely disgusting and if we can't reduce that, who can?"
"How many little girls grow up and say someday I want to be a prostitute?" said Connie Campbell, the director of 5 Stones. The group is based in the Fox Cities and is trying to make more people aware of sex trafficking here.
"Getting past the barrier that no, this can't be true because this is the Valley, this is Mayberry, it's can't happen here, is really extremely important so that we can make a difference," Campbell said.
Grand Chute police chief Greg Peterson says his department has seen several disturbing cases in the last few years. One just happened last month, when an undercover officer working on a prostitution case, came across a 58-year-old Chinese escort who spoke no English.
"She claimed she was here of her own accord but she didn't arrive and rent that room," Peterson said. "She didn't drive here and we checked with the hotel a day or two later and she had taken a cab to Chicago I think. She had gotten the cab and gone to Chicago because her opportunity here ended. We're convinced that's a human trafficking situation."
At one point, Nicole says she came back to the Fox Cities.
"I was sent here to recruit girls," she said. "I brought two girls easily. I picked girls like me that were lost and broken, on drugs or had no family."
Nicole says by speaking out, she hopes to save others from a similar fate.
"I'm still putting the pieces together of what happened to me and how it happened and how can I help stop this from happening to other people," she said. "I feel it's important
that the public knows."
Last year, the man Nicole tells us she worked for in suburban Chicago was sentenced to life in federal prison for forcing four other women to work as prostitutes. He was not charged with any crimes in Nicole's case but she says she did testify at his sentencing.
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