By Shereen Siewert, Wausau Pilot and Review

In the past two days, Wausau Pilot and Review has reported on several arrests that happened over a four-day span in October targeting the sex trade in the greater Wausau area. Many commenters on social media have decried the arrests and their publication out of concern for those arrested.

After all, many asked, what’s the harm?

Law enforcement efforts in recent years across the country have shifted from arresting prostitutes to arresting pimps and johns. It’s the result of a more clear understanding of the relationship between prostitutes and the pimps who control them.

If you think prostitutes service johns because they enjoy their work, think again. Trafficking for prostitution and sexual exploitation is one of the most prevalent forms of human trafficking worldwide. Every year millions of people, especially women and children, are commercially exploited in the sex industry. These people are objectified and literally treated as merchandise.

And the johns who hire them create a market for the industry, bolstering the human trafficking of men, women, and children both locally and around the nation.

Most women arrested in sex stings describe their path into the sex trade as a boyfriend transforming into a pimp. People see a pimp as someone who obtains customers for a prostitute. The reality is that they use manipulation, threats, and violence to keep these women from leaving. They depend on the women they recruit into prostitution. These men use mental, emotional, and physical abuse to keep the women generating money.

Sweden criminalized pimps and buyers (but not individual sex workers) in 1999, in a policy now known as the “Nordic Model.” Government reports says this policy may have led to a reduction in street prostitution and trafficking of young and vulnerable girls from poor countries. Under the Nordic Model, which has also been adopted in Norway and Canada and endorsed by a non-binding European Parliament resolution, sex workers themselves don’t face arrest, only their clients do.

According to a 2014 report from the UN-backed International Labor Organization, 4.5 million people are trafficked for sex, generating $99 billion a year in revenue from forced sexual exploitation. Of the 208 human trafficking prosecutions pursued by the Department of Justice in 2014, 190 were for sex trafficking, according to a State Department report on trafficking released in July. That’s over 91 percent.

Our view: Get the prostitutes into a recovery program, where possible. Put the pimps behind bars. And ensure that the johns who seek out their services are held accountable for their role in perpetuating human trafficking. This is not a victimless crime.