RACINE COUNTY — A summer-long project aimed at increasing human trafficking awareness along Interstate 94 wrapped up Monday, on Labor Day.

The I-94 Project, which was developed and administrated by local anti-trafficking group Fight to End Exploitation, focused on bringing awareness and educating the public about human trafficking. It focused on those passing along I-94 from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

“Since education is the No. 1 way to prevent trafficking, we are very excited with the number of people reached,” said Karri Hemmig, founder and executive director of Fight to End Exploitation.

Raising awareness

The I-94 Project was a collaboration among various organizations, agencies and community members to fight human trafficking across southeastern Wisconsin and bring awareness to trafficking along the I-94 corridor between Illinois and Milwaukee.

The kickoff was held in June at the Route 20 restaurant and was attended by about 350 people, Hemmig said. The event featured a premiere of the music video for “Voices” by the local band Well-Known Strangers. The video is a human trafficking awareness video Hemmig’s organization assisted with. It has been viewed more than 11,000 times on YouTube.

“We’d love for this (video) to have an impact on human trafficking, whether it’s used in educational circles and opportunities or however they determine is the best approach to bring more awareness to the youth and the parents in the area,” Joe Adamek, founder and guitarist of Well-Known Strangers, has said.

Educating the public

Part of the I-94 Project also focused on launching a marketing campaign, including educational materials, web and social media presence, billboards, posters and brochures.

Approximately 4,000 posters showing four different types of human trafficking scenarios were printed and distributed in the area, Hemmig said. The billboard campaign, which took place from June 26-Aug. 20, reportedly reached more than 7 million travelers along I-94.

The project also included the development of victim services resource brochures, which will be available beginning in 2018.

A thousand indicator cards, which the National Human Trafficking Hotline defines as a card with general indicators of human trafficking, have been printed and will be distributed to law enforcement agencies across southeastern Wisconsin as part of the project.

To bring awareness, the organization attended Kenosha Harbor Market, Kenosha National Night Out, expos in Racine and Kenosha, churches and community centers. Hemmig estimates more than 35,000 people were reached in those ways.

Encouraging training, conversation

Because truck stops, rest stops, restaurants, gas stations and hotels along the highway have become common places for victims to frequent, part of the project included reaching out to 34 hotels along I-94 from the Illinois border to General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Hemmig said.

Over 80 percent of the hotels responded and will set up employee training throughout the next year.

“We didn’t know what to expect since this was the first time we’ve attempted something on such a large scale,” Hemmig said. “I am very pleased with the results of this campaign.”

“I do believe that it (the project) helped bring the topic of human trafficking to the surface and created a conversation in the greater community,” Hemmig added. “Now, our job is to take that conversation to the next level with more education among juveniles and increased awareness of support services that are available.”

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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