Case shows how human trafficking reaches county

Man accused of forcing woman into prostitution followed her to Ozaukee, threatened to kill her
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

A Milwaukee woman forced into sex trafficking last year was able to escape in May and find refuge with Advocates of Ozaukee, leading to the arrest of her trafficker, who threatened to kill the woman and anyone protecting her if she didn’t return to him, according to court documents.

The 24-year-old woman’s story illustrates how human trafficking works and shows how it reaches into Ozaukee County.

In a petition for a temporary restraining order filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court, the woman said Gregory Emerson Jr., 37, first messaged her late last fall through Facebook that he operated an “adult entertainment agency.”  The woman stopped messaging him back at that point, she wrote. 

About a month later, however, he offered her a room to rent, which she declined. 

This spring she had become homeless and had no money. He offered to give her $20 in person and that was the first time they met, she wrote. The next day he offered her his room again and she accepted.

Ten days later, the woman wrote, Emerson became angry because she and another woman living there “weren’t bringing in any money through prostitution and said ‘this isn’t going to work.’

“Neither of us had anywhere else to go” so they let Emerson take “provocative and nude pictures of them,” which Emerson immediately posted online through an online escort service, skipthegames.com and which included her cell phone number. 

“About an hour later, I started getting text messages on my phone from unknown numbers trying to solicit me,” she wrote.

He gave her orders to answer the texts, what questions to ask and what to charge for sex, she said in the petition.

“At this point I went along with it because I was scared,” she wrote.

At first, Emerson took half the money she earned, but eventually took all the money from her.

“I gave it to him because I was scared and had nowhere else to go,” she wrote. “He controlled me by making rules about who I would and wouldn’t have sex with. If I stayed in the house or didn’t make money for the day, he would yell at me. He restricted how often I could see my friends and if I saw them they almost always had to come to his apartment. I rarely left because I couldn’t come back to the house without money. 

“He would ‘reward’ me with things I liked or take me places I like to go (parks, etc.) when I did what he told me to do.”

She said he forced her to have sex with him, would use her to try and recruit other women and connect her with other sex traffickers.

According to one online exchange, Emerson put her in touch with pornographers for an interview in either Boston or Washington, D.C., “to discuss your personality,  experience, career objectives, film productions and contract details. You may also wish to give a mini-demo (up to you),” according to one message to the woman.

“In past years,” the exchange continued, “we have identified and provided new talent to numerous production houses, including VIVID, Naughty America and DDF. We are currently working for clients like Evil Angels, Twistys and Brazzers.”

“During this entire time I feared for my safety and that even if I left, I was scared he would find me and I would be killed,” the woman wrote in her petition.

At 2 a.m. on May 14, the woman received a threatening text from an unknown person that she should “come with” to presumably serve a customer or be “dragged out of the house.”

Feeling unsafe, she called a friend living in Ozaukee County at 3 a.m. while Emerson was working and was taken to Advocates of Ozaukee.

At 7 a.m., after Emerson got off work, she received a screen shot of a text message from a friend stating that Emerson had located her phone using a global positioning system app and was on his way with a gun.

“Ima kill whoever in this house that’s not her,” Emerson said in the text message, according to the screen shot.

At that point, the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office got involved, Sheriff’s Lt. DeMaine Milbach said.

“We intervened and secured the phone and set up protocols to intercept Mr. Emerson if he traveled to Ozaukee County,” Milbach said in an email.  “We do not believe he ever travelled to Ozaukee County.”

  Sheriff’s investigators interviewed the victim and worked with the Milwaukee Police Department’s Sensitive Crimes Division, Human/Labor Trafficking Task Force, who also interviewed the victim and obtained search and arrest warrants for Emerson and took him into custody, Milbach said.

Emerson was charged in Milwaukee County Circuit Court with human trafficking and three drug-related felonies, including maintaining a drug-trafficking place. Bail is $25,000.

A jury trial is scheduled for Aug. 19.

In Ozaukee County, Circuit Court Judge Paul Malloy granted the retraining order for 10 years and ordered that Emerson surrender any guns.

Advocates of Ozaukee Executive Director Barb Fischer wouldn’t speak to the specifics of the case, but said her organization partners with similar groups in other counties.

“If someone has a support system in another county we work very hard to get them the support  they need,” she said.

Fischer said the case follows a typical pattern.

“The victim meets someone online or through an already trafficked person who needs someone to help them or care for them,” she said. “They shower them with gifts or praise. Drugs are often involved and they have to be trafficked to earn the drugs or gifts or praise.”

Children can be drawn into trafficking too if the adult parent or guardian needs help, which the trafficker offers in exchange for control over the child.

“They turn their children over to traffickers because they have a lot of nice stuff to give them,” she said. 

Or children agree to be trafficked voluntarily for the same reason, for jewelry, or clothes or money, Fischer said.

“It’s usually kids who feel disconnected from their parents,” she said. 

Advocates staff do all they can to help victims of trafficking, as well as physical and sexual assault, feel safe and healthy, starting with the fact that they’re in an undisclosed location, Fischer said.

That also includes providing restraining orders, counseling, medical assistance

“We have legal advocacy and can connect them with a legal clinic, which they can access at no cost,” she said. “We will try to find them housing, work and just about anything they need to find themselves in a safe supportive situation.

“A lot of young women who are in this (trafficking) situation often think there’s nothing else left for them in this life so they go back because they wonder who will want them; there’s so much shame,” Fischer said.

Advocates has served the county for 40 years, and while human trafficking has been in the news more recently, Fischer said she thinks it has always existed.

“I absolutely believe we have had trafficking victims throughout our history, but there is so much more of a spotlight on it now so that victims are more identifying with that and the way they think of themselves,” she said.

In March, representatives of Advocates, the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office and Ozaukee County Human Services updated county supervisors on the presence of human trafficking in the county and described warning signs that someone, especially teens, may be a victim of sex trafficking.

Signs include truancy, social withdrawal, hanging out with an older adult, inexplicable change in appearance, multiple cell phones, keeping secrets, tattoos or branding.

For more information on human trafficking call Advocates of Ozaukee at 284-9523; Pathfinders Safe Path hot line, (414) 271-9523; National Human Trafficking Resource Center, (888) 373-7888; or National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, www.missingkids.org, (800) 843-5678.

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