It’s a topic that’s starting to get more attention here in Wisconsin – youth sex trafficking is very real in our largest cities, suburbs and rural areas. In fact, sex trafficking cases have been reported in all 72 counties in Wisconsin.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says, “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.” It’s a forceful, fraudulent and coercive way to lure victims (usually the most vulnerable children and teens) into commercial sexual exploitation.
It’s a billion-dollar industry, second only to drug trafficking in terms of revenue and networks.
Vulnerability Leads to Victimization
According to Milwaukee-based Exploit No More, some of the risk factors include young people “with psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship and a lack of a social safety net.”
To us, that sounds a lot like youth in child welfare, those who have aged out, and/or those who are homeless, including LGBTQ youth.
According to a 2013 study*, almost 70% of Milwaukee youth involved in sex trafficking had previously been reported missing at least once; some had been reported missing as many as 9 times. Although both boys and girls, sometimes as young as age 12, can become victims, the majority of trafficked youth in Milwaukee were African American girls, ages 16-17.
Notable Sporting Events, or no Reason at All
This recent campaign, called TimeToSpeakUp.org, co-sponsored by Exploit No More, highlighted the prevalence of sex trafficking during major sporting events. And it did so just ahead of the U.S. Open in small-town Erin, Wisconsin.
This awareness campaign came at just the right time. Even when there is no pending Super Bowl or World Cup, child sex trafficking, often part of large prostitution rings, is more common than many people realize.
See Something, Say Something
Locally, there are a couple of ways you can help. One is to be more aware of the signs and indications that someone may be a victim, as outlined by Time To Speak Up:
If you suspect someone may be a victim of sex-trafficking, call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733).
Become a Foster Parent
Another way you can help is to learn more about Specialized Treatment Foster Care (TFC). We are always recruiting understanding, open-minded and dedicated foster parents to care for children who have been victimized.
If you think you might make a good foster parent for a former victim of sex trafficking, we would love to talk to you. Contact us at 855.GROW.HOPE or GrowHope@SaintA.org.
*Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department, April 2013