By Carmen A. Murguia
History has shown us, God moves us to act to rescue His people.
When you picture sex trafficking victims, what comes to mind? If it is a young, Black girl beaten, raped, and forced at gunpoint to have sex with men for money, then you are right. If you think it is happening only in Third World countries and in major U.S. cities on the East and West coasts, think again. Sex trafficking is also happening right here in Wisconsin, and our African American girls are victims. Children as young as eight and nine years old are being forced, tricked, manipulated, and coerced into selling themselves for sex. This system of oppression is what many refer to as child sex slavery.
In Milwaukee, an organization started by Milwaukee County known as the Milwaukee Human Trafficking Task Force, and now under the City of Milwaukee Health Department Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault unit, meets once a month to take action on this issue plaguing our community. Martha Love and County Supervisor Peggy Romo West are among the many people involved on the task force.
Recently, a coalition of Evangelical Christian churches in Southeastern Wisconsin came together to launch “Exploit No More,” a fundraising and educational campaign aimed at building what would be the first home for underage victims of forced prostitution in Wisconsin. Awareness, advocacy, and long term care are the goals and the coalition hopes to raise about $500,000 and open the doors to as many as eight girls beginning in the summer of 2014.
In a one on one interview with the Rev. Jason Butler of Transformation Church, who is the head of the coalition, he said, “We have 10 churches now including Elmbrook Church, Transformation City Church, Eastbrook Church, and law enforcement officials, nonprofit and faith based agencies who work in the struggle against human trafficking, and we hope to have 30 partners with us. Currently there are no Black churches involved in the coalition but it is a deep desire to have them join because of countless African American female victims. We want to be a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural organization.”
According to Rev. Butler, the coalition’s been two years in the making where they’ve been asking questions, building partnerships, and learning about the issue. The coalition’s desire is to open up a safe house for underage victims of sexual exploitation and child sexual cyber cases here in Milwaukee as an organization to serve local girls.
The girls are taken everywhere from Bayshore to Brookfield and Mayfair Malls. They “recruit” underage girls and abduct them from the streets of Milwaukee. A lot of girls are tricked by pimps pretending to be a boyfriend or someone who cares, and these guys hang out at middle schools and high schools and trick the girls into making them think they are in love with them and lure them. A lot of the girls are trafficked outside the county and state.
Human trafficking is the biggest global market in the world, and pimps can make millions of dollars on trafficking a girl because they don’t value a person.
“In the city of Milwaukee it is an African American issue because African American girls are targeted specifically because of the high poverty situation in the central city and problems in education in the central city that need to be improved. We see all these problems culminating sadly in the African American community and it provides places and situations for pimps to recruit in the central city,” Rev. Butler said.
In 2009, a man in the city of Milwaukee was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison after authorities learned he operated a trafficking ring in Milwaukee for almost 12 years. This particular man would lure girls in the central city of Milwaukee by complimenting them, promising them he’d get their hair done, and buy the girls shoes and clothes. He then took their I.D.’s from their address books with family information and when the girls would try to flee, he’d burn them with cigarettes, threaten to shoot their parents or beat them with an aluminum broom until it bent. If they didn’t bring in enough money or talk to the wrong person, he’d burn them or force them to sit in a bath of ice.
“Ultimately, shelter, education, the whole rehabilitation process for long term residential aftercare for girls who have been trafficked and held in slavery is the goal; that includes education, counseling, medical professionals, job training and providing a home life environment that allow them to be girls,” said Rev. Butler.
Faith based and secular organizations locally have been involved in addressing this issue for years. They include: Basic’s Brothers and Sisters in Christ Serving, which launched a mentoring program and is working with five young women from the ages of 15-22; Rethink Resources, which runs several support groups for young male and female victims, and Healing Hearts, founded by a local group of parents, which is thought to be one of the first support groups for parents of victims in the country.