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Locals are Stepping in to end the Human Trafficking Epidemic in Milwaukee

Imagine when you were an innocent teenager— maybe hanging out at the mall or walking along the street after a fight with your parents. You probably would have taken the flattery from someone showering you with compliments, offering a meal, or even letting you get your hair and nails done. It is this easily that you could have been lured into human trafficking.

Human trafficking is nothing new for all 72 Wisconsin counties, and Milwaukee, in particular, has become a hotspot. As crimes continue to go unnoticed, it’s important to be aware of the solutions communities can take part in to end the global human trafficking epidemic.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking includes force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor. Sex trafficking falls under human trafficking, often involving similar tactics to force victims into exchanging their bodies for money or survival. According to the Milwaukee awareness campaign, Unlucky 13, 79% of Wisconsin human trafficking cases occur in the City of Milwaukee, 92% of youth trafficked in Milwaukee are female, and 78% of youth bought and sold by human traffickers in Milwaukee are African American. Shocking as it may seem, the number 13 in the awareness organization's name represents the average age a child begins being trafficked for sex.


Assistant Milwaukee County District Attorney Erin Karshen explained how human trafficking relationships can begin when predators or pimps pick victims up off the street, providing food, shelter, money, and compliments. In a recent interview with WUWM radio, Karshen described the different tactics used by traffickers.

“There’s one that can Romeo-pimp, manipulate them to think that there are feelings and there’s a relationship.”

Once the victim is vulnerable with her new “boyfriend” they can easily be put into a trafficking situation with the promise that it won’t be that bad, or it’ll simply be a one-time occurrence.

“There are definitely more violent pimps where they’ll have multiple girls that are working with them and then they’ll perhaps beat one of the girls in front of the other to prove a point,” said Karshen.

Victims trafficked may be locked up and hidden away, or they may be forced into sex work in plain view. Oftentimes, minors and adults are transferred within the state as well as across state lines, and I-94 has often been referred to as the corridor for human trafficking.

According to the I94 Project, “Interstate 94 is known as a circuit used by traffickers to transport victims from Chicago to Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, Minneapolis, and the North Dakota oil fields.”

What can the community do about it?

The more community members that step in can create a powerful force in keeping the victims among us safe.

According to Candice Seay Wagner, Human Trafficking Advocate and Criminal Justice professional, there are a few signs and prevention strategies that you can use to join the fight against human trafficking.

“Join an anti-trafficking organization within your local community, state, or even national database. Stay current on missing children and encourage others to do the same. Social media platforms are a fantastic way to consistently respond to human trafficking. Go a step further and create your own page or podcast,” said Seay-Wagner.

One of the advantages anti-traffickers have today is the ease of accessing the internet. It doesn’t take much effort to spread the word and join forces with others in the community.

“Police officers are unable to do everything and because this is a societal crisis, everyone should be involved,” said Seay-Wagner.

Aside from online engagement, it helps to be attentive in all interactions you have with individuals in the Milwaukee area. When something doesn’t seem right, watch for the following:

  • Frightened/Anxious

  • Submissive

  • Does not speak

  • Rehearsed statements

  • Obvious physical abuse

  • Under 18

  • Unaware of location

  • Malnourishment

  • Aggressive or Defensive

  • Noticeable Stress

  • Depressed

How to come forward as a victim

As for victims currently in dangerous trafficking situations, the answer for help varies depending upon the situation.

“This is always difficult due to some being in a constant state of fear regarding the what-ifs,” said Seay Wagner. “I do know that one of the more difficult things for victims is the first time reaching out for help. We need more sanctuaries and centers to allow victims to have a safe place.

What are companies doing about it?

In fact, local companies are doing their part to take action in providing support services to help victims overcome danger and move forward. For example, Exploit No More is a Milwaukee-based nonprofit dedicated to providing access to safe housing and services that allow victims and survivors to work toward their goals.

Because predators often use Milwaukee airport hotels for trafficking locations, the Wisconsin-based company Sussex Injection Molding is also taking action by printing the Human Trafficking Hotline phone number on waste and recycle baskets that are sold to hotels and office spaces.

“Having something placed in hotel rooms could get attention and provides a way of escape and the possibility of having a better life,” said Tim Bodnar, Exploit No More Board President. His nonprofit organization is working to end sex trafficking in Milwaukee.

Survivor advocacy is another area of human trafficking that calls for attention. LOTUS Legal Clinic provides legal services, advocacy, and community education for survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking for forced work and services.

Taking Action

If you suspect that someone is in danger or needs immediate assistance, please use The National Human Trafficking Hotline by phone, chat, or text options. This hotline is made up of anti-trafficking organizations that can offer emergency, transitional, or long-term services to victims and survivors.

In the most recent Human Trafficking Hotline statistics report, 337 people contacted the hotline in 2020, resulting in 97 human trafficking cases reported. Ninety-nine of these calls, texts, chats, and emails were made directly from victims and/or survivors, proving to be an effective option for those in need.

Call 1-888-373-7888, Text "BEFREE" or "HELP" to 233733, Chat or email


About the Author

Jeana Prudhomme

Jeana Prudhomme is a Communications professional, as well as the Founder and Editor of Respect Your Mother Magazine. She received B.A in Communications from Alverno College in 2017, and an M.A in New Media and Professional Writing in the Spring of 2022. After years of focusing on solutions journalism and non-fiction writing related to feminism and sustainability, she has created art from her passions in the form of this ecofeminist magazine.

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