By Karen Stokes
Approximately 100 community members, political figures, clergy and law enforcement gathered on Saturday morning for breakfast and a crucial conversation on sex trafficking in Milwaukee.
Hosted by Russell Stamper Sr and moderated by Martha Love, the meeting was held at St. Matthew’s Church. The panel consisting of MPD detective Dawn Jones, Nancy Yarbrough Fresh Start Learning, Inc., Pastor Bobby Sinclair, Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Davis and Dr. Roemel Lamont Smith opened the dialogue to build awareness about the negative impact of human trafficking on the victims and the community.
“Human trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery,” Love said.
Victims, particularly runaways, are targeted at schools, malls, bus stations and on social media. The pimp realizes that these children have emotional needs. The victim is then tricked by being offered gifts, a place to stay or a romantic relationship. Lastly the victim is traumatized by the pimp’s use of manipulation and control using violence, drugs or threats. The trauma is difficult to break making the victim feel powerless.
According to unluckythirteen.org, a website created by the Human Trafficking Task Force, 78 percent of youth bought and sold by human traffickers are African American. Also, 79 percent of occur in Milwaukee. Pimps prey on victims as young as 12 years old and a history of physical and sexual abuse is often common among victims.
“At 12 your life hasn’t even began and here your destiny has already been determined,” said Pastor Bobby Sinclair.
Nancy Yarbrough is a sex trafficking survivor. She became involved with a pimp at 16-years-old.
Yarbrough said prior sexual abuse and the false promises to entice her made her vulnerable to the trafficker. Yarbrough’s experiences compelled her to help other women who fall into trafficking. Her experience was imperative to gaining the trust of the women on the street.
“I’m glad to be on this side. I understand because I came from the same cut of cloth but God has me and other Sisters of Survival on the other side,” Yarbrough said. “So I stand here being a voice to those who are out there because I remember when it was me. I’m very proud to be a voice to those who ask me how to get out.”
“The struggle of human trafficking is very real,” said Yarbrough. “People are human and we can’t dehumanize them for being involved in a profession that they were forced into.”
One study from the American Journal of Public Health estimates 30 percent of shelter youth are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They may engage or be coerced into prostitution for “survival sex” to meet daily needs for food, shelter or drugs.
Dana World Patterson, chair of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, says, Milwaukee is the Harvard of pimp school and Wisconsin is a hub of human trafficking.
“Kids are on the street and experience survival sex with adults that invite them to stay in their homes,” World-Patterson said. “The kids are sleeping in cars and even under cars and in homes having to pay for shelter with sex.”
“The kids are looking for someone to take care of them outside of who their natural protectors should be,” World-Patterson said. “The protectors in many instances have violated them.”
According to World- Patterson, 80 percent of people being sex trafficked are women, and 50 percent are children. Age 13 is the average age of girls who are trafficked and for boys it is even younger.
“The kids will do what they have to do to stay safe,” World-Patterson said.
Andre Lee Ellis, community activists and founder of ‘We Got This’ project to help boys said, “The boys who are abused get angry because of being violated with homosexual trafficking which in turn they then become abusive. They do not want to be seen as gay. The boys deal with bullying and getting beat up by their peers or having peers coerce them into performing sexual acts with them.”
During the meeting a common theme throughout was that every day members of the community need to get involved, to help.
“Many hands make the work light,” Sinclair said.
“This is not just an urban problem, it’s a major problem in our entire state,” Love said. “The commercial sex industry is destroying our society.”