Proposed Program Would Create Treatment Centers For Sex Trafficking Victims

Program Could Have $17 Million Price Tag, According To State Department Of Children And Families


A state legislative committee has approved a new approach for dealing with minors who are the victims of sex trafficking.

The bill would make it possible for a court to order residential treatment for a teen that has been forced into prostitution. If passed by the Legislature, the bill could cost state tax payers as much as $17 million, as it would require the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to establish residential treatment centers across the state to handle as many as 150 teenage sex trafficking victims each year.

Bill co-author Rep. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, said it’s time for the state to commit significant resources not just to penalizing traffickers, but also to healing their victims: “To make sure that these children aren’t sentenced for a crime, but are recognized as victims and are given the protection and the services they need.”

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Johnson said it’s unlikely there will be as many as 150 victims referred for treatment each year. She said the bill would cost taxpayers closer to $2 million, not the $17 million estimated by the DCF. The head of the DCF Division of Safety and Permanence, Fredi-Ellen Bove, said a pilot residential program is up and running in Dousman, where five former teen prostitutes are getting treatment. She said it costs more than $300 per day per patient to help them overcome their trauma and prepare for a new life.

“Simply sending children into the child welfare system without the resources to help them heal will not solve the problem we’re all trying to solve,” said Bove.

The Republican co-author of the bill, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said it’s time for the state to put its money where its mouth is to help child sex trafficking victims.