Simply defined, human trafficking is the exploitation of human beings for someone else’s gain, according to Erika Petty, executive director at Milwaukee-based Lotus Legal Clinic, a nonprofit that provides free legal services exclusively to victims of human trafficking.

As you’ll discover in Episode 16 of the Bottom Up podcast, produced by the State Bar of Wisconsin, while human trafficking can be simply defined, the complexity of the issue spans the nation and the globe, and hits home right here in Wisconsin.

To close out January, which is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Bottom Up co-host Kristen Hardy sat down with Petty to discuss the complexities of the human trafficking problem.

Along the way, we hear about the different ways in which human traffickers identify vulnerable people or populations and use that to exploit them for financial and other gain.

We hear how victims are forced and coerced to commit crimes and give up all autonomy, making it difficult or impossible to escape, as the victim often depends on their traffickers for survival. We hear how victims are lured with promises into isolated situations, and forced into unpaid labor.

“Trafficking is definitely a hidden crime and there can be red flags, but those red flags are only going to be visible if the victim is engaging in society in a way in which people are looking out for that person,” said Petty, noting that traffickers know how to keep victims isolated.

But Petty also provides hope, and pathways for lawyers and others to help, through the donation of time or resources. Her work and the work of Lotus Legal Clinic involves the enforcement of crime victims’ rights, criminal record relief, civil legal services involving housing, credit repair, workplace protections, and other issues. The clinic also helps victims on a pathway to healing.