Although we have been in lockdown for over a year, experts say the pandemic has likely led to more targets for sex traffickers by kids spending more time online.
Having been with the department for 24 years, Gonzales added, "About half of my victims are juveniles, and I've had human trafficking victims as young as 12, 13."
According to Milwaukee Police, reported sex trafficking cases of minors went from 30 in 2019 to 17 reported cases in 2020.
Gonzales and his partner, Detective Anna Ojdana, say those statistics may not be accurate. Ojdana thinks a lot of numbers are unreported. "Milwaukee is definitely a hub for sex trafficking. It's easy access. Highways connect you to all the other states. We see a lot of people coming from Green Bay and Appleton. We see victims from Chicago and Minnesota."
The Milwaukee Police Department, the Milwaukee U.S. Attorney's Office, and community advocates told WISN 12 that predators know teens are online more now since the pandemic and target minors on social media.
"It's Snapchat, it's Tagged, it's Kik, it's Facebook, it's Instagram," Ojdana said.
Community advocates say with shelters and outreach programs temporarily closed during the pandemic, under-supported teens are likely to fall for online sex trafficking traps.
All of the experts WISN 12 talked to said for parents to keep their kids safe from sex trafficking, they need to get heavily involved in their kids' lives and social media. "Know who your children are friends with. Know who they're hanging out with. Know the parents of their friends," Gonzales said.
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