By Mrinal Gokhale
The City of Milwaukee and Medical College of Wisconsin released a report earlier this year that cites Milwaukee is a major sex trafficking hub in the country.
Tamika Lewis became a victim of sex trafficking when she was 16-years-old, for a total of 17 years. She recalls making a prayer after getting kicked out of her pimp’s Milwaukee home during a blizzard last February.
“I was working the streets and met a gentleman who asked if I believe in Jesus,” Lewis said. “When I said yes, he gave me the number to Foundations for Freedom. Today, I work full time, I’m independent, and have been clean for one year.”
Foundations for Freedom is a Milwaukee based nonprofit organization that aims to eradicate sex trafficking through education, advocacy, awareness, and prevention. On Sunday, March 24, Foundations for Freedom’s FashionWalk fundraiser was held at the Holiday Inn at 4700 N. Port Washington Road.
Lewis was one of about 30 who walked down the runway. She said the Foundations for Freedom referred her to an attorney and helped her find employment and housing.
“I have to break this lifestyle. I still have friends to day who are afraid to seek help and think their lives are over. I saw one friend commit suicide in 2010,” Lewis said about why she chose to participate and tell her story to the audience.
The fashion show featured local high school students, college students, trafficking survivors, and other adults from the community walking, dancing and parading down the runway to upbeat pop music. Each model wore a black t-shirt with the words “One Less” printed in bold white letters on the front. These words were meant to represent “one less” trafficking victim.
The show was emceed by Shannon Sims of TODAY’s TMJ4. She introduced each model as well as their reasons for supporting the organization and why they want human trafficking to end.
The audience enjoyed food, drinks, and local vendors had tables outside of the runway area. The event lasted from 3 p.m. until about 6 p.m.
Foundations for Freedom was founded by CEO Dana World-Patterson. She has held this show every year at a different location since 2016 to raise funds that support the organization’s mission.
“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity,” World-Patterson said. “It has plagued our communities for centuries. Use of force, fraud, and coercion to obtain a sex act is nothing new. Rape molestation, and incest dwells among us. Only the name has changed.”
She stated that 13 is the average age that a girl is trafficked domestically and that victims are raped 6,000 times on average. Many times, perpetrators and victims know one another.
“Other than stranger danger, they’re watched and groomed. Recruitment begins lurking at familiar places. He even shows up as a boyfriend and finesses until he strikes with a very familiar request,” she said. “Other traffickers may not finesse and begin training immediately. The training is usually by a female who was once trafficked, but is now trusted by the trafficker.”
Some sponsors for this year’s FashionWalk were Aurora Healthcare, SaintA, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Holiday Inn at Milwaukee Riverfront, and WNOV.
The next show will be held in March 2020 with an exact date and location to be decided.