“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
- St. Francis of Assisi
November 4th I attended the symposium “Human Trafficking in Our Backyard” at St. Mary’s in Waukesha. It was facilitated by Deacon Steve Przedpelski, the Executive Director of the Franciscan Peacemakers Ministry which reaches out to those victimized by human trafficking. He spoke about his own interactions with victims and resources the non-profit ministry offers like the Claire Community, a transitional housing and mentoring site for women. Gifts for the Journey employs these women, teaching them skills needed to become employable and with their proceeds directly benefiting them. I purchased many of their products and I can vouch for how beautiful they look and how delectable they smell!
The first speaker was former US Attorney James L. Santelle. He educated us on the law enforcement side of sex trafficking and defined what it actually is for us; any person induced to perform a commercial act is a victim of human trafficking. This can be done through force, fraud or coercion. He also shared how to identify trafficking victims, different laws, and how to best proceed with concerns. James talked about the importance of both protecting the victim and persecuting the perpetrator and consumer. It was a good reminder that both males and females can be found on either side of human trafficking, and that many traffickers work in teams.
The most poignant speaker for me was Emmy Myers, a local survivor of human trafficking. She bravely shared her story of survival and humanized this experience for me. I saw her face and heard her words. It wasn’t just quotes on a paper and sad faces in a photo. This went beyond laws, acts and statistics. As a mother I learned just how easy it is to manipulate these young children. As a woman, I learned just how impossible this information was to forget. As a human being I learned how important it is to educate ourselves and others.
Emmy warned us that perpetrators are charismatic, business-savvy people that see human beings as a business. “He sold me a dream when I really needed one,” she confessed. I shuttered when she explained that there is more slavery today than ever in our history. Prostitution might be a choice, but its a choice of circumstances and the victim takes an average of 9 times trying to make a break. As Decon Steve said it best, Emmy gave a piece of herself that day when she spoke, so that we could learn. “She needs to be loved out of this,” he stated.
We then heard from Wendy Smith, the co-founder of the Washington County Anti-Trafficking Advocates (WCATA). She spoke about sexual exploitation, specifically through social media and shared her own personal experiences. She talked about how sinister social media can be when anyone can be anybody. There are so many forums out there for these predators to hide behind that we always have to stay vigilant and aware.
It made me uncomfortable and shocked just how easy our children can be harmed. And it goes beyond just physical abuse. Inappropriate photos that are sent can never be erased from their memory chip. That shame and anxiety remains on their internal hard drive and the desensitization starts chipping away at their childhood.
The seminar concluded with a sharing session. Questions asked. Laws clarified. Stories shared. Advice offered. One guest in the audience urged us to be cautious of our words, and our labels. Our children hear these stigmas and attach them to their own insecurities and their own questions. This can make them resistant to voice concerns and questions. This resistance creates a barrier that impedes us from the open communication that is necessary for moving forward, and solving this problem.
I went to the event not knowing what to expect. I was nervous and unsure about being educated on something I knew so little about. I mean, I knew and understood the topic, but not the actual subject. I didn’t yet know how to “connect the dots,” a phrase survivor Emmy discussed that afternoon. This was, she explained, the most important thing she wanted us to take from the seminar. That we need to be able to connect the information given. And I did. Listening to her speak about her experience, I realized just how close to home this is. It truly is in our backyards! Milwaukee is ranked in the top five counties nationwide for human trafficking. It isn’t someone else’s problem. It’s mine. It’s ours.
I’m afraid. I have only one child and she has all of me, but is that enough in this world that we are in? I am terrified, but this fear is good. It keeps me educated. It keeps me ready. It keeps me scared, sad.. And angry. And this anger keeps me prepared as I can be. I will continue trying to help others “connect the dots” and one person at a time we can eradicate this epidemic in our own backyards. Stay open. Stay aware. Stay brave. And stay educated.
I wouldn’t be doing the event proper justice without sharing information as well. This is hopefully just the beginning of your own journey to better understanding and to ending the plight of human trafficking.
Some possible signs a person is involved in Human Trafficking:
Accompanied by a controlling (possibly much older) person/boss
Not speaking on their own behalf
Avoiding eye contact, showing signs of physical abuse, scared, overly submissive
Without free will and/or needs permission to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom
Carries multiple phones
Constantly late/absent from school/work
Ran away from home and/or missing their ID/Documentation
Sudden increase in expensive stuff