“We must report, address and rescue victims of trafficking.” LaShawndra Vernon 2012 chair Human Trafficking Task Force
By DENISE SEYFER
Mount Mary College will join forces with the Human Trafficking Taskforce of Greater Milwaukee to host “Untold Stories: A 3-Part Series” on March 21. Mount Mary has been a key player in fighting human trafficking in the Milwaukee area as early as October 2011.
Rachel Monaco-Wilcox, justice department chair, explained that Mount Mary is exposed to inner-city issues because of the college’s location. Many Mount Mary students who volunteer in places like the Sojourner Peace Center and the Benedict Center hear the stories and meet the victims.
“Mount Mary cannot push away and keep this information at arm’s length. It affects members of our student body and their families,” Monaco-Wilcox said.
The campus offers a safe, supportive environment for victims to come together to talk about their stories in order to heal. It’s also a place where campus services, such as counseling and education from faculty who study the problem, can support and guide discussions to help victims of human trafficking and engage community members.
What are the facts?
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center says human trafficking activity in Milwaukee is rising. A 2012 FBI press release states that one reason for the increase in local human trafficking is that Milwaukee’s teen victims are used to feed activity into Chicago, which becomes a pipeline for getting “new blood” into this billion dollar per year business.
Calls to the human trafficking call center in the past year have risen statewide as well as in the city of Milwaukee itself, according to NHTRC call statistics (2012). Recent statistics on the human trafficking problem are difficult to obtain because traffickers hide and move their victims to avoid detection; many victims are afraid to come forward; and some victims view their aggressors as family and therefore remain undetected.
The Human Trafficking Reporting System, an online measuring tool supported by the U.S. Department of Justice that collects data on suspected human trafficking incidents, stated there were 2,515 suspected human trafficking incidents investigated between Jan. 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010.
The U.S. State Department reported there are 27 million modern-day slaves worldwide who go unnoticed and are forced or tricked into the trade for little or no money, according to its “2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.”
A common misconception is that victims choose a life of prostitution; in reality it is an act of desperation and survival.
The NHTRC’s Annual Report of 2012 says 80 percent of the victims of human trafficking are women and 50 percent are children, girls between the ages of 12-14 and boys between the ages of 11-13.
“The more knowledge we get about who is a trafficking victim we see that [this problem] reaches across socioeconomic statuses and barriers,” Monaco-Wilcox said. “You have to look at the way family structures have changed and the way that young people struggle so much for a sense of identity. There can be so many things that throw a person into a state of vulnerability.”
Not for Sale, a non-profit organization based in California, says perpetrators prefer young adolescents more than any other age group. Those children have a longer shelf life and can be sold and re-sold, lured with ideas of love, fancy cars, big houses and expensive jewelry.
The at-risk tend to be runaways or throwaways, women, young boys, and mid- to upper-class youth under the age of 25. Traffickers will exploit their vulnerabilities using coercion, bondage, extortion or violence. Some women may have been trafficked at 12 years of age and are now on the streets as prostitutes where they are exploited further.
“The saying goes, it takes five minutes to get into and 15 years to get out,” Monaco-Wilcox said.
What can be done?
Mount Mary hopes to change the laws to ease the prosecution of traffickers, while protecting the victims. Many times traffickers are not convicted or laws are not enforced. Local agencies and advocates can also provide transitional or temporary housing, as well as jobs and clothing.
According to Terry Perry, director of violence prevention in Milwaukee, anyone can call the NHTRC to ask questions about human trafficking or offer tips about suspected perpetrators or victims. Anyone can volunteer in shelters, which help to protect women and children who are victims of violence.
Students and faculty on campus who support these efforts hope to build on the positive momentum of the “Untold Stories” series by encouraging others to form online communities and educating family and friends by passing on information about how to help fight this crime.
“Be a ‘yes’ person. Pick up the phone and call your legislators,” Perry said. “They have to hear from the ‘yes’ people.”