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Buzz Around Town- Human Trafficking Awareness
Chris Swan
Chris Swan
Some things in our lives happen so we can help others. I have a story to tell and I hope it causes all of us all to be more aware of our surroundings and hopefully prevent a tragic situation.
    We have family in northern Wisconsin and our route to and from has a half-way point which is Black River Falls. This past November I was traveling home from ‘up north’ with my then 12-year-old daughter; just the two of us. It was late afternoon on a Sunday, so we pulled into her favorite establishment, McDonalds. If you’ve been to McDonalds in Black River you know that it sits adjacent to the freeway and next to a large Kwik Trip gas station.
    We proceeded to the drive through for a Happy Meal for her and a salad for me. Exiting the drive through line, I decided to take a parking stall to eat my salad before heading south.
    I quickly found a spot which faced away from the McDonalds flanked by two open stalls to the right and left of my van. As I put the vehicle into park, I noted a car directly in front of me but separated by a driving lane between us. It was a white sedan, with its lights on. What struck me most about this car was the dark tinted windows  all around. If I’m not mistaken, I believe heavily tinted windows on the windshield are illegal in Wisconsin. Without a doubt it weirded me out a bit.
    I assumed they would be leaving soon as they had their lights on, so I proceeded to dig out my salad to start eating. I am sure I did the usual pull out the phone thing and checked for messages while I was eating and went about my own business.
    Suddenly, the car in front darted forward across the driving lane. It drove very fast right past my car on the passenger side and proceeded to turn behind me driving quickly away. Oddly enough, they did not have to pass by me on the passenger side to go the direction they were headed. Since I was already uncomfortable with the looks of this vehicle, I watched it till it was out of sight before going back to my meal.
    I am not sure how much time elapsed, but as I was sitting there, I noticed movement in my rear-view mirror. As I looked in the mirror, the very same white sedan was pulling into view. I quickly turned around and looked back over my shoulder to see it slowly turning along the passenger side of my vehicle inching its way forward.
    The parking lot was half empty and there was no reason this vehicle should be retracing its path. My heart began to race. I wasn’t about to wait around to see if the vehicle would stop next to me or keep moving, especially since I could not see into this vehicle to judge the pursuers. Assuredly my doors were locked, but when you are stalked, it is not a good feeling. Thankfully my van was still running, and I quickly jammed the shifter into drive and turned directly away from the vehicle that was now adjacent to my van.
    At that moment my mind immediately went into defensive mode and I began formulating a plan if I was pursued. Should I proceed onto the highway and head home? Should I pull into Kwik Trip and get help? Once I was able to distance myself from the car, I am very thankful to say it did not follow me and I watched it pull out onto the highway and speed off toward the freeway.
    I don’t believe this is an isolated incident. Many readers of this column can retell similar scenarios. Others may think, “Well nothing happened so what’s the big deal?” The bottom line is that nothing happened because I was aware of my situation. Had I not been alert, I may not have noticed the car and stepped out to get something out of my vehicle leaving a door open or unlocked thus putting myself or my daughter vulnerable to a waiting stalker. Also had I been too busy on my phone I may not have noticed the vehicle drive up beside me.
    January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month and it’s only been in the last several years that awareness is finally getting the attention it deserves as a national/international problem. Statistics dating back a few years estimate it to be a 32 billion dollar industry and growing.
    Awareness is certainly the first step in protection. Human trafficking is often characterized as a big city problem especially with large immigrant populations, but it is everywhere. Some speculate Super Bowl Sunday to be one of the heaviest targeted events for sex trafficking each year in the U.S.
    However, trafficking doesn’t just happen in big cities or on the streets. Online predators can lure kids into areas or situations where they are vulnerable. People can be trafficked through the work site or through new acquaintances.
    Education and awareness are two of the biggest defenses against trafficking. People should always be wary of their situation and children should be encouraged to travel in pairs or groups and online chat groups restricted.

    In our area, Clarity Clinic of Platteville offers free education to groups on human trafficking awareness. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Be aware. Stay safe.