human trafficking

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National statistics indicate that nearly one in five women have experienced rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives.

While April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, The Women’s Center of Waukesha works year-round to bring greater awareness to sexual violence and the efforts being made to combat it. The 40-year-old center serves women, children and men impacted by domestic abuse, sexual violence, child abuse and trafficking.

Maayan Silver

For the past week, WUWM has been reporting on sex trafficking — what it is, who's affected, and how activists and

Lacey's Hope Project

Sex trafficking has been reported in all 72 counties across Wisconsin — earning the state a reputation as a hub for the crime. Some elected officials are working to end the problem.

State lawmakers have considered a number of bills in recent years in an effort to toughen laws pertaining to sex trafficking. Federal and state law defines the crime as the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel someone to have sex for money.

Maayan Silver

Near Washington Park on Milwaukee’s west side, Nancy Yarbrough runs the Humble Beginnings organization for women facing domestic violence, drug addiction or sex trafficking.

In homage to Jeffrey, a 17-year-old boy who lost his life to human trafficking, the organization gives away fleece blankets to victims and others who need help. Yarbrough says the blankets were hand-sewn and donated by a 15-year-old girl from Tomah.

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Michelle is a sex trafficking survivor. She says it was a milestone when she started sharing her experiences. “For a long time, due to the fear of being discriminated against and preconceived notions of what it is to be trafficked, I was really too afraid to step out and tell people,” says Michelle, who’s originally from Milwaukee.

It’s important to note that Michelle isn’t the woman’s real name, but we’re using it to protect her identity. Also, Lotus Legal Clinic connected us with her and vouches for her story. 

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Milwaukee has a reputation as a hub for sex trafficking. So, what is it? Who is it affecting? What are the numbers?

Here's a primer on what the crime looks like here in Milwaukee.

What It Is  

Sex traffickers get an adult to exchange sex for money through force, fraud or coercion. But it’s also considered trafficking to have a child exchange sex for money, under any circumstance.

Traffickers may separate victims from family, control their lives and even move them from one city to another.

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There are more than 40 million victims of human trafficking around the world, according to statistics from the International Labour Organization. The group says 25 percent are children, and 75 percent are women and girls. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that enriches the perpetrators through the sexual slavery of their victims.

January is human trafficking month -- a time when groups trying to eradicate the crime, raise awareness about it. Across the world, it’s estimated that around 27 million people are being trafficked for sex. Most of them are women. The numbers here are hard to pin down. But some experts say Milwaukee is a hotbed for the activity. 

WUWM caught up with a couple people working to fight sex trafficking in Wisconsin.

Justin W Kern

State lawmakers are floating an idea for how to crack down on human trafficking and prostitution. They're considering a bill that would enlist the help of truck drivers, whose routes take them throughout the state. An assembly committee is scheduled to vote on the item Wednesday. Some victims' advocates approve of the measure, but say the state should also employ other innovative strategies.

Marti Mikkelson

City leaders continue to ramp up efforts to crack down on prostitution on Milwaukee’s south side. Earlier this summer, a community organization announced it would open a shelter for victims of human trafficking, who are forced into prostitution. Then, neighbors chipped in to hire a private security firm to gather intelligence on the south side – and go after the customers, or johns. A couple of aldermen announced Wednesday that the city is also focusing on another tactic.

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Milwaukee’s place as a hub for human trafficking has attracted media attention both locally and internationally. The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirms that the city has a significant problem, especially when it comes to adolescents being trafficked.

But a number of organizations are undertaking efforts to alleviate the problem. Among them is Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which is working to better educate medical providers in identifying and helping children who may be the victim of exploitation.

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Sixteen child sexual predators and traffickers were recently arrested across the state through a sting led by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Brad Schimel is the attorney general.

“In the short period of time involved, this is significant that we have got this many that ended up traveling to try and meet a child for sexual purposes.”

Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

Sex trafficking wasn't a major concern in the early 1980s, when Beth Jacobs was a teenager. If you were a prostitute, the thinking went, it was your choice.

Jacobs thought that too, right up until she came to, on the lot of a dark truck stop one night. She says she had asked a friendly-seeming man for a ride home that afternoon.

Photo by Allison Dikanovic / Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

The commercial sex trade industry works like any other market, with supply and demand. Experts say that a stronger emphasis on deterring people from purchasing sex in Milwaukee would address a root cause of the problem.

Martha Kuhlman looked down, feeling outside of her body. She saw herself climb into the backseat of a car in a body-hugging dress as a man promised to go get her money. Instead of cash, he returned with a knife in hand. Before tossing her out onto the curb, the man strangled the young woman until she lost consciousness.

FBI

We’ve reported before on the reputation Milwaukee has gotten as a hub for human trafficking.  The story has been covered in Wisconsin media and as far away as the international newspaper, The Guardian.

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