By Patricia O’Flynn Pattillo -MCJ Publisher
A winter day, banks of snow with more falling and two teen girls are walking Teutonia Avenue and Burleigh, mid-day! Scantly dressed for the weather, you wonder, are they what this Human Trafficking is all about.
Your mind quickly flashes back to the young woman who was raped, several years ago, by seventeen men, back to back, all varying ages, and the young woman was then diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Then putting it closer to home, you’ve heard the cries of parents when their teenager has left home, angry about rules that had to be enforced, and the fear of their whereabouts and safety were unbearable, until they returned….or in some cases, they never returned.
These are the symbols, the markers of the vulnerable, the youngsters most prone to be pulled into Human Trafficking. These are scars that penetrate lives, most often hidden, that represent the new slavery. Black Americans, in particular, have known or heard about the ravages of being taken, without permission, nor regard for person, and being made a human machine for the production of goods, revenue, and lifestyles of the “master”.
Milwaukee, this beautiful city on the lake, known for its beer, Summerfest, clean streets and progressive political predilections is now the city with the highest amount of Human Trafficking in the midwest region. How does this city get this acclaim? Simply stated entrenched poverty and teenage vulnerability.
The adolescent years are historically treacherous, turbulent, filled with emotion, hormones, over-exuberance in fashion, identity and personal confidence issues. In the best of families, traversing that period from age 12 to 21 years requires much family interaction, superior communication, early identification of relationships, activities and institutions that encourage self-actualization and adherence to family values, social boundaries and high expectations.
Young boys and girls need many positive role models to help them “ find themselves”. Supportive institutions, teachers, counselors, church family and neighbors who become the village binds them to successes and becoming contributing citizens. Higher education, volunteer activities and continuous applause for jobs well done are all a part of the success trajectory.
But imagine what happens when these growth-marks are absent and kids lead kids and rebellion festers because not only is there limited access but the role models can be unsavory characters who desire to lead them into venues that do not support personal success but rather success for themselves. That is the role of the pimp, the master, who applaud, entice, reward, initially and then enslave too many.
The academy award contender “ Twelve Years A Slave” is a graphic, riveting movie that
shows the pangs of slavery in the 18th century where a “free man” is invited to travel to a city for new musical and celebrity opportunities. After an evening of dinner and drinking, British Actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the lead role, in the Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen, Academy Award contending epic, is bond in chains, held, and ultimately sold into slavery. His family is left to fare on their own, while he becomes a part of the slave trade, with no papers, no opportunities and total dictation of his life, his loves, his present and future by the slave-owner. No longer a person, he becomes chattel.
Some people of color have criticized the movie saying it is too graphic, too painful and it is…but so is life without control, today. And Human Trafficking is enslavement. It is not limited to Milwaukee, it is a global problem. In fact, some sources say that internationally over 30 million people are involved in Human Trafficking. Statistics reveal that 40.4% are Black; 25.6 % are White; 23.9% are Hispanic; 4.3% are Asian and 5.8% Other. The preponderance still remains Black. Another negative in the Black community, one we have to be more aware of and one we must fight, and win!
Over $32 billion dollars in profits is generated by Human Trafficking, internationally, each year. This is slave labor personified: prostitution, servitude and forced labor. Fifty percent of the Trafficking victims are under the age of 16 years, locally and worldwide.
Last year, the FBI reported that the problem in Milwaukee is real; it is one of the biggest issues facing our youth who are exploited by being promised false financial independence. Regrettably, they often end up being locked up, beaten and chained to dictated sex partners, according to Agent, Theresa Carlson.
Community awareness and continued advocacy for more employment opportunities for youngsters will discourage them from opting for questionable finances such as selling drugs or being lured into trafficking. This has to be a city-wide mission!
Black Nouveau recently did a superb expose on the problem in Milwaukee. That program # 2919 is worth reviewing again. The Milwaukee Task Force on Human Trafficking is working vigilantly to bring the issue before the community. Led by Chairperson Dana World Patterson, with support from other local leaders like community activist Martha Love, and Supervisor Peggy Romo West, the Human Trafficking Task Force meets every 4th Tuesday, monthly. Working closely with Career Youth Development through a Milwaukee County partnership, counselors who work directly with victims affected, are available to provide or channel victims to additional services designed to rehabilitate them.
Community Brainstorming, the tenured community think-tank, has addressed the trafficking conundrum several times and experts such Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, who oversees the City Office of Violence Prevention, and the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, pledged city support in changing the statistics in the city of Milwaukee. Martha Love has been the moderator/organizer who brought superb experts together, consistently. Her face and voice on the issue have become synonymous with the demand for change in Milwaukee.
Other social services such as BASICS, a coalition of churches in the central city meet monthly to address the issue. Presently, they are working to fund and create the first complex to house and rehabilitate victims, with donations through their foundation.
Other local agencies include, “Rethink Resources: Youth in the Sex Trade” , with Claudine O’Leary; the “Human Trafficking Outreach Program” at Umos, with Gina Allende; the Sojourner Truth House Support Group, with Natailyn Runte.; plus “Healing Hearts”, a local group of parents, thought to be the first that deals with the pangs and suffering of parents affected.
We applaud these agencies and salute activities like the Daddy/Daughter Dance, given by the Department of Recreation and the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, recently at the North Division gymnasium. There a sold out crowd brought fathers, uncles, and brothers out with their daughters, sisters,nieces and cousins to show positive, healthy relationships. These events teach young women how a young woman should be treated. They become little queens and little princesses as their male dates protect them, reassure them that they are beautiful, just the way they are. Self image, self confidence, even self-protection begins early in life. Money will not be the master when a child has been made to believe that he or she is the master of their destiny.
Loving family members can re-enforce the rules: (1) no other male can offer you more love, protection or more stability than the people that love you most. This is equally important for the young males who look to other males for example. They too must be loved, protected, encouraged to grow into manhood and become good men who will learn to protect, love, and reassure their families, their women, their children.
Jobs, jobs and more jobs must be created…a child who earns through their own employment opportunities is less likely to look for an enticer, or listen to the promises of what “could be”, when they are encouraged by their family, applauded by the people who love them, and are supported openly in their endeavors.
“Human Trafficking is a crisis, and the statistics alone prove it. Our children are being stolen, rented and sold into sex and labor trafficking”, said Commission Bevan Baker.
“ The community component can help bring attention to sex workers, human trafficking, traffickers, drug houses, and all of that is very vital”, reminded, advocate, Martha Love.