The Harvard of Pimp Schools
How human trafficking became entrenched in Milwaukee, and what’s being done about it.
Sex and human trafficking is a deeply entrenched black market in Wisconsin. And the biggest problem is found in Milwaukee, the “Harvard Of Pimp Schools, as Dana World-Patterson, chairperson of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee has described it.
Milwaukee was highlighted by a FBI report, which found that over the past four years this city has consistently ranked among the top five in the nation for the recovery of trafficked adolescents. The multi-billion dollar industry hasn’t retreated, despite specialized initiatives and partnerships through the Department of Justice (DOJ).
From September 2017-January 1st 2018, a DOJ press release noted, its Human Trafficking Bureau conducted 23 sex trafficking investigations, arresting 15 traffickers. That’s a start, but its a challenging underground network for law enforcement and non-profits to penetrate.
Experts like World-Patterson say the problem began when Milwaukee was still a prosperous, growing industrial city. Pimps, especially from the south, noticed “there was a hustle and bustle”, she explains, and saw an opportunity. To them, “this was the land of milk and honey,” she notes. World-Patterson has had conversations with traffickers to better understand the issue.
It’s “an atrocity to mankind… in our own backyard” she declares.
Knowledge is crucial in combatting these crimes, she stresses: “The more we know, it gives us power.”
Rod Ritcherson, a special assistant to the CEO of the non-profit agency UMOS, says there’s a surprising lack of awareness of the issue: “Sex trafficking and labor trafficking sometimes takes place right under our noses.” UMOS is a non-profit that offers services for migrant workers, child care and workforce training. It also has a human trafficking program that focuses on spreading awareness of the signs of human trafficking.
Ritcherson notes that although human trafficking occurs throughout Wisconsin, there are certain hot spots. Truck stops, for example, are popular for sex with victims. Anywhere near a highway in fact, as well as major sporting events, are popular locations.
“Some of the signs of sex trafficking is possibly a young girl with a much older man” Ritcherson notes. The girl “may be submissive” or “won’t have her own identification, and is not allowed to speak to others.” Other red flags, especially for hospital personnel, might be minors with frequent emergency room visits. Or young women or children around older, clearly wealthier men who aren’t relatives.
“It’s modern day slavery,” says Ritcherson.
World-Patterson says strip clubs are another place of interest. She notes cases in Wisconsin where minors were hired at strip clubs using fake I.D’s. According to World-Patterson, the girl may unwittingly come under the control of a pimp while believing she’s a “renegade.” That means the girl feels she’s making her own money, working for herself, making independent choices. It’s just one of countless illusions traffickers use to trap new victims.
The control traffickers have over victims is one of the biggest barriers for those battling the crime. Ritcherson notes that many victims UMOS interacts with are runaway youth, not abductions. Both UMOS and the Human Trafficking Task Force agree that a root factor in the problem is love, or a lack of it, which leads the young women to look for a protector.
UMOS finds victims often return to the life, especially “if the victim feels their trafficker truly loves them,” Ritcherson says.
In the last decade, Dana World-Patteron says, human trafficking has grown from a $32 billion to a $152 billion annual market. “It’s not just ‘them over there,’” not just in certain cities or neighborhoods, she stresses. Human trafficking doesn’t discriminate between race, or even gender.
Making a dent will take creative solutions, World-Patterson says. She believes housing is central to solving the problem. Many victims don’t have a place to go. So providing housing and lifestyle support aids the transition “from victim, to survivor, to thriver,” she says. “Housing informs care,” she explains, rounding back to that need for love and support. Caring for victims “informs counseling that then helps in understanding of what human trafficking is.” Only an empathy for victims, she believes, can remedy the toxic circle of human trafficking.