Tracy Scheffler, founder of the nonprofit 5-Stone, said she moved a Thursday presentation on the dangers of human trafficking from a smaller room at Harvest Church to the sanctuary, because she had a feeling people would come.
Even her expectations were dwarfed by attendees who slowed down traffic on Highway 33 pulling into the church.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Pfluger was the keynote speaker of “Not In Our Town — The Face of Trafficking in Rural Areas.”
Scheffler said she believes there were 420 people who attended the presentation based on the capacity of the church.
“Wow, this room says something tonight,” Scheffler said. “I’m really proud to be part of Beaver Dam tonight, and I think you should be, too.”
Susan Dacks of Hustisford said she attended the presentation because she could get continued education credits for her job, but she also had a more personal reason for attending the presentation.
“I have five children,” Dacks said. “They are all adults, but I have two girls and I don’t want them to get into this, and I don’t want my sons to get into the subject matter.
“We want to find out what we can do to help solve the problem,” said Chuck Stangl of Beaver Dam, who attended the presentation with his wife, Jeanne Stangl.
“We have to know what things we should be looking for,” Jeanne Stangl said.
John and Mary Kotek of Beaver Dam had read a book about human trafficking after their priest suggested the book to his congregation.
“We want to know what we can do to stop it,” Mary Kotek said.
The fight against human trafficking in Dodge County has taken on a higher profile this year. In late March, Christopher Childs of Hartford was indicted on federal charges of human trafficking. The 45-year-old is accused of torturing women and forcing them to engage in prostitution. In the criminal complaint, prosecutors allege he operated out of two Dodge County strip clubs — the Hardware Store in Clyman, and the TNT Club in Lebanon. In addition, there have been four arrests at the Hardware Store recently for misdemeanor charges and warrant apprehensions.
Pfluger said her goal was to explain what sex trafficking is on the federal level and what it looks like in rural America.
Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, Pfluger said.
In many of the cases, it is important to remember the victim might lack support at home or be facing other factors that make her an easier target to sex traffickers.
A lot of times, people see the reports of sex trafficking occurring at events like the Super Bowl, but it is quieter when it happens in rural America.
“If you are looking for a semi with girls chained up, well, that is not what you will see here,” Pfluger said. “Often times, it is women or minors who have prior physical or sexual abuse, and sometimes drugs are involved.”
Pfluger showed screenshots of websites where girls were being presented in the area, including in Beaver Dam. She also went through some of the cases she had prosecuted and told stories of girls who had in many incidences began speaking to someone online who came to get them and led them into a life of forced commercial sex acts.
“It really does happen here,” Pfluger said.
A panel of speakers also answered questions presented from the audience. Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg, Beaver Dam Police Department Detective Heather Johnson and two survivor/advocates, Morgan Meadows and Patricia Propson, formed the panel.
Klomberg advised attendees to be aware of their children’s activities online.
“Pay attention to their usage,” Klomberg said. “They are children. They don’t have privacy rights. Look at their phone and they don’t get computer usage in a room away from their family. That’s just a recipe for disaster.”
5-Stone is a nonprofit established for the purpose of raising awareness about the magnitude of sex trafficking in Wisconsin.