Recognizing that human trafficking is an insidious and growing problem in west-central Wisconsin, Elaine Geissler and Sali Bluse feel called to do something to help the victims.
The two women believe they have an idea for an effective way to fight back against an underground industry that is estimated to victimize hundreds of thousands of women and children across the country.
Geissler, of Chippewa Falls, and Bluse, of Eau Claire, plan to build a 20- to 30-bed shelter for trafficked women and children on a 5-acre tract of land Geissler owns just west of Eau Claire in the town of Union.
The facility, which they hope to open next year, would incorporate medical care, nutritional and hygienic needs, and Christian-based counseling and therapy.
“These people need a place to call home as they heal physically, psychologically and spiritually,” Geissler and Bluse state on the website of the nonprofit group Rescued & Redeemed that they co-founded to address the issue and operate the shelter.
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Geissler said the idea arose from the realization that sex trafficking victims in the region have few resources available to guide them toward a more positive future.
The shelter, which the women plan to call Abba’s Landing (signifying safe and protected through Christ), would offer transitional housing and services.
The plan is for the facility to have a 90-day period in which victims “get to choose if they want to get out of the life and make a better way for themselves. We can’t force them. They’re going to have to make their own choices,” Bluse said.
For those who choose to stay, shelter staff would provide intensive counseling, along with programming related to life skills, employment and faith, that could last a year. The nearest comparable facility, Bluse said, is Terebinth Refuge in St. Cloud, Minn.
“Our vision is to build a transitional home as a temporary shelter for these survivors who have been victimized by this horrific sin, to help heal and restore their lives, and to show the amazing grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ,” she said.
Both Geissler and Bluse emphasized that they intend for a key part of the mission of Rescued & Redeemed to be raising awareness about human trafficking and steps people can take if they suspect a woman or girl is being trafficked.
“We have to bring people’s attention to this,” Bluse said. “It’s happening in our own town right now, and we just want to take the blinders off people. It’s just growing so fast.”
The women hope to spur action in addition to just caring.
“It’s time for people to get off their church pews and get out there and be the Christians they claim to be,” Geissler said. “We’re the ones who are supposed to help our fellow man.”
State Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, who served as director of public policy and community relations for five years for the local anti-human trafficking group Fierce Freedom before being elected to the Assembly last year, said many well-intentioned people have tried to launch such shelters without realizing all of the obstacles.
Challenges include finding highly skilled therapists, dealing with addiction and trauma issues, and trying to help people who have been coerced and may feel like they have no other option than to continue in the sex trafficking industry.
“Most of these people are not looking to be rescued by a white knight,” Emerson said.
Security is another potential stumbling block, as a shelter for victims is likely to attract regular visits from both traffickers and law enforcement officers — a prospect likely to draw resistance from neighbors, Emerson said.
Bluse and Geissler said they understand the path to making Abba’s Landing a reality won’t be easy, but they are determined to follow what they consider their calling from God.
They hope to take a significant step on Saturday, Sept. 7, when they plan to hold a free sex trafficking and child exploitation awareness and fundraising event at the site.
Depending on the pace of fundraising, Bluse said they may have to launch a temporary facility before they raise enough to build the permanent shelter they envision.
“But we will not stop,” Bluse said, “until we have a home of some sort.”
CHIPPEWA FALLS — A 48-year-old convicted felon, who threatened to use a 9 mm gun Thursday, was shot and injured by an Eau Claire County deputy at a Chippewa Falls motel.
The incident occurred at 9:49 a.m. at the Indianhead Motel, 501 Summit Ave., according to a Chippewa Falls Police Department news release.
Chief Matt Kelm said the adult male called the sheriff’s office dispatch center and said, “I have a 9 millimeter, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
The Chippewa Falls Police Department and the Eau Claire Regional SWAT team responded to the scene. The officers learned the man was a convicted felon and has a history of violence. He recently moved to the area.
Kelm noted the motel is in a densely populated area, between the hotel, several restaurants and the adjacent neighborhood.
The officers learned the man was inside his room, room No. 19. They made multiple attempts to contact him.
“The subject was uncooperative,” Kelm said.
The hotel remained open, but the immediately adjacent rooms were evacuated.
An Eau Claire County sheriff’s deputy with eight years of experience shot and injured the suspect shortly before noon. The suspect was taken to an area hospital with undisclosed injuries. Kelm said the right call was made in this situation.
“I think the officer’s actions kept everyone safe,” Kelm said.
Kelm declined to answer how the officers entered the room, or if more than one shot was fired. He also couldn’t comment on if the man used a gun, or if a gun was located at the site. He also declined to say where the man was struck by a bullet or the man’s medical condition. It is also unknown if there were signs of drug use in the hotel room.
Kelm said the room was still being processed, and the investigation was going to continue through the evening hours Thursday.
“No residents or officers were injured during this incident, and there is no danger to the public,” Kelm said earlier Thursday. “The surrounding businesses and motel are still operational.”
Kelm said he anticipates releasing the names of the officer and the suspect in coming days. The Chippewa Falls Police Department is the lead agency in the investigation.
CHIPPEWA FALLS — Ritchie German shot each of his three relatives multiple times, according to a preliminary autopsy report.
Chippewa County Coroner Ron Patten said Ritchie’s 66-year-old mother, Bridget German, was shot five times in the head: three in the back of her head and two on the side.
Patten said that Ritchie’s 32-year-old brother, Douglas German, and Douglas’ eight-year-old son Calvin, each were struck twice.
“Both had one in the front of the head, and one to the back of the head,” Patten said.
There were no additional bullet wounds on their bodies.
Each bullet was likely a “kill shot,” so there would have been no reason to fire more than once, Patten said.
It is unclear why Ritchie German fired multiple shots into each victim, he said.
“There are a lot of questions like that,” Patten said.
The three people were found dead in the home at 16964 54th Ave. at about 12:54 a.m. Sunday. Police located Bridget German in the basement. She was apparently shot and killed in basement bathroom and dragged to an adjacent room. Douglas and Calvin were shot in the kitchen, wrapped in a sleeping bag, and dragged later to a bedroom area, said Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk.
Patten said a .22 caliber revolver was used in the shootings.
Based on the condition of the bodies, along with the timeline of when the three people were last seen alive, Patten agreed with earlier reports that they were likely killed Friday night or early Saturday.
A final autopsy result is still being compiled, he added.
“It would show the angle and direction of travel of the bullet; it’s not going to make any difference,” Patten said.
Ritchie German shot and killed 24-year-old Laile Vang at her Lake Hallie home at 13578 45th Ave. at 10:20 p.m. Sunday. He then shot and killed himself. Patten confirmed that both deaths were from a single shot to the head from a shot gun.
Police have said 10 total shell casings were found at the Lake Hallie residence. Vang’s parents were each shot in an arm as they raised them in a defensive posture; each injury was severe enough that each damaged arm was later amputated.
Kowalczyk said his officers are still investigating the connection between Ritchie German and Vang. While there were a handful of text messages between them, described as being sexual in nature, it doesn’t appear Vang really knew who German was, Kowalczyk said.
“Follow-up on all phones will be going to the crime lab,” he said.
Kowalczyk confirmed that a gun and handcuffs were found in a car that Ritchie German had left running outside Vang’s home.
The sheriff department’s tip line is 715-726-4563, and Kowalczyk urged people to call if they saw Ritchie German on Saturday or Sunday.
“We haven’t received a lot of tips, but we’ve followed up on those,” he said.
An online fundraiser at gofundme.com has raised more than $24,000 for the Vang family for medical expenses.