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Shelter from the Storm: Leading the Fight

Neal Lofy’s caring police work is a model to better address and prevent human trafficking

Original Article “Shelter from the Storm” from Marquette University | July 25, 2019

-Excerpt from Shelter from the Storm-

In Wisconsin, human trafficking is defined statutorily as any kind of labor or sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion — or any form of manipulation when the person engaging in such acts is under 18. Often driven underground, it is a widespread issue, particularly in Lofy’s backyard.

In recent decades, experts say, Wisconsin’s southeast corner has become a hotbed for trafficking activity. Though trafficking can affect anyone, it is often found where the bonds of community are frayed. It disproportionately affects society’s most vulnerable people — those lacking stable shelter, income, social support networks, political agency or other forms of power.

Because of the innovative work of Lofy and his colleagues, the region is also becoming a national example of how to better address and prevent the problem.

Historically, law enforcement has embraced a more punitive approach to trafficking situations, criminalizing those who engage in sex work, whether they were forced into the situation or not. Under Lofy’s leadership, however, the Racine Police Department has taken a collaborative and trauma-informed approach to trafficking cases that prioritizes supporting victims as much as it does prosecuting traffickers.

They don’t ticket people, most of them women, found to be trading sex for money — as prostitution and other sex work are often indistinguishable from trafficking. Instead, they pair each potential trafficking victim with an advocate. These volunteers work to build trust with victims — as there is often a heightened level of fear around law enforcement — and try to connect them immediately with needed services such as shelter or substance-abuse treatment.

This isn’t a traditional approach compared to other departments around the country, but Lofy says he’s never been a traditional cop, at least “in the stereotypical sense.”

Investigator Neal Lofy is the co-founder and President of Fight to End Exploitation. This entire article was featured in Marquette University’s Alumni Magazine. 

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