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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sex Trafficking in the Spotlight

Actress Brook Bello and local experts will share their concerns in discussion series

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“Human trafficking” conjures up images of international sex rings and slave labor in other countries.

But human traffickers and their victims are a constant presence in Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Police Department has more than 125 open investigations into sex traffickers, cases in which pimps are forcing, coercing or lying to victims so that they will sell sex for money, drugs or protection.

But that alarming statistic doesn’t account for the real number of sex trafficking victims—most of whom are teenagers—in the city, suburbs or other parts of Wisconsin.

Nor do those investigations shed light on the number of victims of labor trafficking, those who are forced to work jobs against their will for little or no pay.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand what’s really happening,” said MPD Det. Thomas Dineen, of the department’s sensitive crimes division. “But it’s pretty shocking.”

Dineen described southeastern Wisconsin as a source of underage prostitutes, with almost nonstop sex trafficking between Milwaukee and Chicago.

“All of them have a different story,” Dineen said. “Some are from troubled homes, some are not. Some of them make a bad decision. Some of them are ‘in love.’ And then, when the money runs out, they’re forced to sell themselves.”

Claudine O’Leary, a human trafficking expert who serves as a consultant at the Milwaukee Health Department, said that Milwaukee’s sex trafficking victims are both minors and adults, males and females, locals and those brought to Milwaukee from other states and countries.

Soon-to-be-released research O’Leary conducted with MPD and the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare turned up 77 cases of minors who were involved in sex trafficking between August 2010 and August 2012.

“Those 77 cases are a fraction of the young people that we know have been sex trafficked here in Milwaukee,” O’Leary said.

The cases O’Leary identified are not part of the 125 ongoing MPD investigations, nor are they accounted for in the growing number of federal sex trafficking prosecutions in Milwaukee. Just last week, Tyrone “HK” McMillan, who ran a shop in Southridge Mall in Greendale while also pimping out women, was convicted in a federal court of seven counts of sex trafficking, while Najee C. Moore was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, sex trafficking and attempted forced labor, of both minor and adult victims.

 

Six-Part Series on Sex Trafficking

Milwaukee’s pervasive but underground sex trafficking operations will be the topic of a six-part speaker series organized by Career Youth Development, Inc. (CYD), beginning Thursday, June 13.

“There are girls who are being pimped by these guys who are controlling them mentally and physically,” said CYD Executive Director James Ferguson. “They are being sold as property, for money, and the exchange is sex and different sexual and lewd activities that they’re forced into.”

Ferguson said the speakers series is intended to educate parents and potential victims about the signs of sex trafficking, as well as how to get help.

“A lot of the time the parents come to us at the point where they are so frustrated that they don’t have anything else that they can do to stop their daughter from running away or stopping their rebellion,” Ferguson said. “It sort of goes south from there. And when it completely hits south and hits the ground, that’s when the pimps are at the optimum level of control of the girls, when the family walks away out of frustration. And then the girl has nobody but the pimp. And that’s when the abuse starts and when things really take a turn for the worse.”

CYD’s series begins on Thursday, June 13, and will continue most Thursdays through July 26, when actress Brook Bello will share her story of surviving sex trafficking.

Speakers include Tracey Johnson, executive assistant U.S. attorney general, on June 13; Terence Ray of the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative and Maria Beltran of Healing Hearts on June 20; Dana World-Patterson, chairwoman of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, on June 27; Pastor Jason Butler from Transformation City Church on July 11; Claudine O’Leary of the Milwaukee Health Department on July 18; and actress Brook Bello on July 26.

All discussions—except Bello’s—will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2300 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. Bello will give her speech at 2 p.m. on July 26 at Mercy Memorial Church, 2477 N. 36th St.

For more information about the series, go to careeryouthdevelopment.org.

If you are a victim of sex trafficking or if you have information about sex trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree. Or you can contact the MPD’s Sensitive Crimes Division at 414-935-7405.