‘Have to do more:’ Report shows 300+ were victims of sex trafficking over 3 years in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- There's new proof sex trafficking is prevalent in Milwaukee. More than 300 people 25 years old or younger were victims of sex trafficking from 2013-2016 in Milwaukee, according to a new report released Thursday, March 1.

The report was put together through a collaboration between the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, the Medical College of Wisconsin Institute for Health and Equity, Rethink Resources, Milwaukee Sexual Assault Review and Milwaukee Police Department – Sensitive Crimes Division.

The groundbreaking analysis estimates the magnitude of sex trafficking in Milwaukee from Jan. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2016.

This project was made possible with funding by the Bob and Linda Davis Family Fund.

“Human trafficking involving youth is a serious and pervasive issue that is a form of violence prioritized in the Blueprint for Peace,” said Reggie Moore with the City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention in a news release. “We have to do more to prevent the exploitation of children and youth in our community.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

"This is obviously a very serious issue," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barett.

Mayor Barrett said the new report demands action. In fact, it gives recommendations for tackling the problem and highlights its scope.

Using MPD records data, 340 individuals aged 25 and younger were identified as having been sex trafficked, or were believed to have been sex trafficked, between Jan. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2016 in Milwaukee.

According to the news release from the Medical College of Wisconsin, because information required for further analysis was not available for all individuals, 231 of the 340 were analyzed.

The report shows the majority of victims were black females (97 percent, or 225 female individuals, 65 percent or 149 African-American victims). More than half, 55 percent, were juveniles, with the others between the ages of 18 and 25.

The recommendations include additional training for criminal justice, medical and social service systems to identify and respond to sex trafficking.

“We hope this report builds on current discussions around the issue and leads to additional collaboration with other agencies in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of sex trafficking in Milwaukee so we are better equipped to respond and prevent it,” said Mallory O’Brien, director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission and adjunct assistant professor in Institute for Health and Equity at Medical College of Wisconsin.

Debbie Lassiter

"Without being trained, you're really flying blind out there," said Debbie Lassiter, executive director of Convergence Resource Center.

Lassiter trains groups in these areas and recently trained medical personnel, response teams and schools in Belize. Her organization has also trained staff of a few group homes, an area targeted in the report for safety concerns.

Mayor Barrett sent a letter to judges, the district attorney, the county executive and the state with hopes of working together on the issue.

"...to make sure young women and girls don't become really targets of this sex trafficking," Barrett said.

Lassiter said training is important because the untrained can unintentionally re-victimize a victim.

Recommendations have been made based on this report in three categories moving forward: prevention, protection and intervention and suppression.