Tag Archives: survivors

Working against human trafficking, from Moldova to Milwaukee

According to a report published by the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission in 2013 entitled “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with Milwaukee Police Department,” more than 77 youth below the age of 17 were trafficked in our city. This information is now more than 3 years old and does not account for adults.

There are many great organizations working to fight human trafficking in Milwaukee and abroad.

Please learn about, volunteer with and work alongside these groups.

Here are a few: Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Commission on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and the U.S. Attorney’s Eastern District Task Force on Human Trafficking, along with many nonprofits.

For a comprehensive list of organizations, please see the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee’s May 2013 report entitled, “Survey Results: Services for People Who’ve Been Trafficked.”

Another organization is Diaconia Connections, an international aid and development organization affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Czech Brethren and the United Church of Christ. Diaconia Connections maintains an office in the Plymouth United Church of Christ on Milwaukee’s East Side.

The following is a personal reflection from their director, Jeremy Ault, about his trip to Moldova, documenting the anti-trafficking work being done there.

After nearly two hours of traveling, my Moldovan colleagues Adrian and Livia stopped the car in the middle of a gravel road at the top of a long, winding hill. They made their way to a rusted gate that demarcated the property line of a family that lived in a dilapidated house. Turquoise paint peeled away from warped, sun-bleached wooden planks, while the breeze sucked curtains out of broken windowpanes. The yard was bare and rusted hulks of farm equipment could be seen through the crushed walls of a collapsed barn. There was no electricity, no running water and the outhouse door was left ajar.

It was at times like these between Adrian, Livia and me where our language barrier was most noticeable. I had no idea of their plans, so I just followed.

Upon reaching the threshold of the gate, I caught a glimpse of an elderly women making her way to the door. She walked with a severe bend in her spine — most likely the consequence of years of farm labor and osteoporosis.

With her came three children. Their ages varied, from 10-16. There were two boys and a young girl. They didn’t speak to us. After some hushed conversation, Adrian turned to me and waved me inside.

I hesitated.

I made it to the steps leading to the entrance, glanced at the children, and then turned back around. I walked across the yard, back through the gate, and stood by the car. I didn’t leave that spot for an hour.


In the summer of 2015, I traveled with three representatives from the Presbyterian Foundation to the European nation of Moldova to document the work of Diaconia Connections (the nonprofit I work for), and our Moldovan partners CASMED and ProCoRe. Our goal was to produce a video about the work being done to fight human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a reprehensible crime. And Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, is ground zero.

Cornered between Romania, Ukraine and the Black Sea, the country has experienced years of economic dysfunction, political corruption and civil war. For working-age adults and young people, opportunity is often found by seeking employment in Russia or the European Union.

Moldova is rated as a Tier 2 Watch List by the U.S. State Department. It is a primary source of men, women, and children trafficked for sex and forced labor. Victims are sent to Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Russia and the European Union. Nearly 80 percent of those trafficked work in the sex industry.

The problem is most egregious in Moldova’s rural communities, where educational and economic opportunities are lacking. Individuals in the countryside are desperate for opportunities. And desperate people without the proper means to acquire work visas, are prime targets for human traffickers. In Moldova, there are plenty of potential victims.


We met up with our Moldovan colleagues, Livia and Adrian, early on in our trip and they stayed with us for a few days, driving us around Moldova, where we visited villages and farm communities. But instead of listening to stories of capture, abuse, escape and healing from individual survivors, we instead visited the damp, musty homes of elderly women suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

We came upon the cottage of a 75-year-old man uncontrollably shaking from a neurological disease that rendered him unable to speak or feed himself. The nurse from CASMED that cared for him walked over 7 miles a day to wash his soiled bed linens and slice his bread.

We had lunch with a single mother and her son who was physically disabled and unable to leave the house. We listened intently as she pleaded with local government officials to assist her in rebuilding the foundation of her home. In the middle of the conversation, the mayor of the town leaned over to me and said in English, “Her house is going to be condemned next month. We don’t know what to do. We have no money to help.”

At some point I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like a voyeur. The overbearing sense of helplessness began to weigh on me, so I created an alternative reality.

I convinced myself that the people we were visiting were acting — perhaps for the camera. I decided to look away, to ignore the problems that were presented before me — which is why, at our last stop, I refused to enter the house.

I stood by the car indignant and upset that Adrian and Livia had taken me to the home of an elderly women, caring for children, who was clearly uncomfortable and in need of some kind of material aid. Once again, I brought nothing. I had no food and no money. And this time, I had little empathy. I don’t know, maybe I was ashamed of my own privilege?

My colleagues from the Presbyterian Foundation, along with Adrian and Livia, returned to the car. None of them asked me about my decision to stay outside.

Instead, they recounted another tragic story that had become all too familiar: Six years ago, the children’s mother was lured by work “recruiters” from Russia, promising a job in the hospitality industry in Moscow. Thinking that she would work in a hotel or café, the mother gave money to the recruiters to purchase a work visa. She left. And has never been back. It is now known that she was trafficked into prostitution by an organized crime syndicate. Her children have spoken with her only twice since she’s been gone, and they do not know when or if she will return. The task of caring for her children has fallen to her impoverished and elderly mother — a situation that only continues the cycle of poverty and vulnerability that enables traffickers to take advantage of desperation.


After some reflection, I thought more critically about my own decision to not enter the house. Livia and Adrian, in the face of problems, never looked away. They listened to the stories of people and actively found ways to help. The work of CASMED and ProCoRe are testaments to the power of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming challenges. The nurses from CASMED provide not only medical assistance, but offer company and conversation, reminding those they care for that they are loved and remembered. Social workers from CASMED and ProCoRe assist elderly caretakers with their expenses, providing educational materials, a living stipend and food throughout the year. Youth counselors and workers provide job training, therapy sessions and organize cultural outings to help young survivors of trafficking heal. I began to feel ashamed that I, in my privilege, did not allow the children or the grandmother to tell me their story.

Livia, Adrian and all the individuals we visited, forced me to realize an often forgotten fact: that a crime like human trafficking affects entire communities in addition to those trafficked. Men who have been sent away to Moscow to work on construction sites as bonded laborers are unable to remain home and attend to their ailing mothers. Women forced into prostitution in Turkey are unable to care for their aging fathers. Bright students desperate for work and educational opportunities drift away to cities and across borders, weakening their communities and impoverishing the life and future of their villages.

But the story doesn’t need to stop there.

No matter how insidious the crime trafficking can be, together, survivors and regular people like you and me can fight back.

It is why Adrian and Livia continue to care and provide healing for all of those affected — the survivors and those who are left behind.

It’s why survivors themselves are often their own best advocates. They are strong, resilient people who have a lot to teach us.

It’s why we should never ignore their stories.

It’s why we should actively search for those places in our communities where trafficking is happening and volunteer, donate to, or work alongside those organizations fighting this terrible crime.


We were about an hour and half north of the capital Chisinau when I saw my final glimpse of the Moldovan countryside. It was awash in an auburn, early-morning light that intensified the dour hues of plowed fields and barren hillsides. Thousands of dried sunflower stalks shuddered in the wind while elderly farmers dressed in loose-fitting cotton overalls lounged under spindly beech trees. Women’s Orthodox headscarves splashed radiant shades of red and blue across the landscape as they slowly herded untethered cows into the irrigation canals for water. It was a bucolic, peaceful scene. For while the land showed signs of serious erosion and the people working the fields conveyed a life bereft of material wealth, it was nevertheless enticing. It was one of the few moments where I really paid attention, when I chose not to look away.

While Moldova might be far away, the trauma of trafficking hits close to home. As citizens of Milwaukee and the United States, we should work to fight injustice and human trafficking here and in places like Moldova. It might be uncomfortable and we might have to learn where we can be of help, but much more is lost when we avert our eyes and stand listlessly by on the roadside.


Jeremy Ault is the director of Diaconia Connections and an Analyst for Spectrum Nonprofit Services. He lives in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. For more information, please visit www.diaconiaconnections.org.

Read more

> Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, “A Crime Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Milwaukee,” Allison Dikanovic, Feb. 29, 2016,.

> Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, US Department of State.

> Homicide Review Commission Report, April 15, 2013, “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department.”


Images provided by Jeremy Ault.
Images provided by Jeremy Ault.

Church still evades payments to abuse victims

Making good on their verbal threat in open court to “spend down” the remaining money left in their estate to prevent 575 victims of rape, sexual assault and abuse by clergy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from receiving restitution, lawyers for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki have filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They seek to overturn a U.S. 7th Circuit decisive ruling that a fraudulent “cemetery trust” created by former Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now cardinal of New York, was not “protected” by federal religious laws or the First Amendment and can be used to compensate survivors.

A few weeks ago, the archdiocese started carrying out its threat by randomly deposing and, of course, re-traumatizing victims, putting survivors through hours of questioning by church lawyers fishing for reasons to file yet more pointless briefs and run up expensive bills. So far, lawyers’ fees and court costs are soaring near $20 million dollars while Listecki has begrudgingly offered $4 million, total, for all rape victims, less than $7,000 per survivor.

In the latest filing, Listecki again legally howls the discredited excuses of “religious freedom” and “First Amendment rights.”  Clearly these rights are not enshrined in our Constitution for bishops, or anyone else, to cover up sex crimes, as if child rape is no one’s business but their own.

What matters is not winning the brief (they won’t). What matters is that it will be expensive, create more delays and pile up legal fees so there is no money left for survivors. You might as well move the Sunday collection plate over to the lawyers’ offices or, perhaps, the country club. The later location might be easier since, as Listecki wrote in a recent column in a Catholic paper, he will be getting in as much golf as he can this summer. In the meantime, hundreds of victims are languishing through years of bankruptcy without help, much less justice. 

When filing for bankruptcy over four and a half years ago, Listecki urged victims to come forward for “restitution, healing and resolution.” Since then, however, he has claimed that none of the 575 victims, not a single one, has a legitimate case.

It is pretty clear that Listecki filed for bankruptcy in utter bad faith and breech of promise to victims. The bankruptcy was filed to prevent restitution to victims by deploying the federal bankruptcy system and so called “religious freedom” to shield Listecki, Dolan and dozens of child sex offenders from the consequences of their criminal conduct and cover-ups.

Dolan wrote to the Vatican when he sought permission to create his bogus cemetery trust to prevent U.S. courts from compensating victims of priest sex abuse. Since then, it has been shown the archdiocese has at least $300 million available for victim restitution. But so far the archdiocese appears to have found a means to buy its way of justice, in plain sight, out for everyone to see.  Again.

–Peter Isley is Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Help for women’s shelters arrives by the truckload

Imagine leaving your home forever with literally just the clothes on your back — without even such basic necessities as a comb or a toothbrush.

Every day, countless survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault find themselves in that situation. When the opportunity to flee their abusers or attackers presents itself, they must often take instant action amid life-or-death circumstances. There’s no time to plan or pack a suitcase.

Unfortunately, decreased government grants have harmed domestic violence programs. Fortunately, philanthropists and private charities are generously helping to fill in the gaps.

Some of the help has come from unexpected places. Every year, for instance, Two Men and a Truck launches a massive nationwide drive to collect essentials for women’s shelters, which are then distributed around Mother’s Day.

The Movers for Moms program is a natural fit for the company, which lays claim to being the largest franchised moving company in the United States and internationally. The company already has the moving boxes and the trucks to transport the items. And, despite the company’s name, it’s woman-owned.

“The founder of our company nationally is a woman named Mary Ellen Sheets and her two sons, who are the original two men — and her daughter,” said Tim Lightner, who owns the Two Men and a Truck franchises in Dane and Rock Counties. “She was a single mom, and she decided from day one that being active in the community was an important mission for her.” 

Wisconsin’s TMT franchises participate in the program, which benefits the YWCAs of Dane and Rock counties, as well as the Women’s Resource Center of Racine. 

“This is our fifth year with the program, and it has just really exploded very wonderfully for us,” Lightner said.

He said his company sets up more than 50 donation sites each March in Dane County and many of them are filled and replaced over and over with items ranging from diaper rash cream to lip balm to shampoo to blankets.

“It’s been an educational thing for me — I hadn’t realized just how big the need was,” Lightner said. “One of our core values as a company is to give back and participate in the community. Being a good steward in the community is really an important part of what we do.”

The Women’s Resource Center of Racine provides shelter to about 350 victims of domestic violence annually. Executive director Cherie Griffin said the donations collected by Two Men and a Truck and other generous people are prompted in part by the fact that so many people know a victim of domestic violence.

“Their hearts know the mission, and that’s why they’re so willing to give,” Griffin said.

Besides fulfilling survivors’ needs for personal necessities, the donations communicate to survivors that there are “a lot of people out there who want (them) to be safe,” Griffin said. “That’s a powerful message, especially for victims who are so low and have been so isolated from their communities. That’s how abusers become successful, by disconnecting victims from their communities. … Domestic abuse is a power and control issue.”

People reaching out with aid in the simple form of shampoo and pillows are part of victims’ reconnection with the world at large and with themselves, Griffin said. And receiving that help from “powerful women making use of their resources and leveraging their companies to respond to crises such as these” sends a very important message to victims, she added.

Notalone.gov to assist campus rape survivors

Want to know whether there’s been a history of sexual assaults on your college campus? The Obama administration has created a new website that will post enforcement actions it’s taken against schools and provide information for survivors on where to go for help.

A White House task force on sexual assault recommended actions this week that colleges and universities should take to protect survivors and inform the public about the magnitude of the problem, such as identifying confidential victim’s advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses.

The recommendations stem from a 90-day review by the task force that President Barack Obama created after his administration heard complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape victims and the hidden nature of such crimes.

The task force also promised greater transparency. A new website, notalone.gov, will post enforcement actions and offers information to victims about how to seek local help and information about filing a complaint.

“Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend that rape and sexual assault doesn’t occur on their campus,” Vice President Joe Biden said in announcing the results of the task force’s work.

Advocates praised the rare, high-profile attention being given to the issue, even as they acknowledged that much of the action required will still need to come from college administrators.

Lisa Maatz, vice president for government affairs with the American Association of University Women, said the “smart schools” will take the recommendations and adopt them.

Rory Gerberg, a graduate student and advocate at Harvard University, said that while the task force recommendations will play a central role in determining how universities deal with sexual assaults, they only go so far.

“As students, it will be our responsibility to put pressure on our university administrations to ensure these recommendations are put into practice,” Gerberg said.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said her organization representing college and university presidents welcomed the chance to collaborate with the government on handling sexual assaults, “which the task force notes is a `complicated, multidimensional problem with no easy or quick solutions.”

Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president at Kalamazoo College in Michigan and the immediate past chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said there’s room for improvement in how college campuses and communities handle sexual assault cases. She said college presidents will have to review the recommendations to determine what works best in their particular situation.

“If you ask a president what keeps them up at night, more than anything it’s the safety of our students,” Wilson-Oyelaran said.

On the same day, the Education Department issued “questions and answers” that spelled out to colleges and universities and K-12 schools how to handle circumstances under Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. The 1972 Title IX law is better known for guaranteeing girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions’ handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their school failed to protect them.

Among the directives:

– A victim’s sexual history cannot be brought up in a judicial hearing unless it involves the alleged perpetrator and that those working in on-campus sexual assault centers can generally talk to a survivor in confidence.

– A school is required to process complaints of alleged sexual violence that happened off campus to determine whether it occurred in the context of an education-related activity.

– In a K-12 setting, when a school learns that a teacher or other employee has sexually harassed a student, it is responsible for taking “prompt and effective” steps.

– Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students are all protected and a school must resolve “same sex” violence in the same way it does for all such complaints.

In its report, the task force said the Justice Department will help develop training programs in trauma care for college officers and assess different models for schools to use to adjudicate such cases, since some sexual assault survivors are wary of a legal process that can expose them to potentially painful or embarrassing questions by students or staff.

While 1 in 5 female students is assaulted, the White House said the review was also about protecting male victims and engaging men in discussions about preventing such assaults. Research has shown that most campus sexual assault victims know their attackers, alcohol or drugs are often involved and only 12 percent of college women attacked report it to police.

Slutwalk Milwaukee march, rally set for Sept. 7

The Slutwalk Milwaukee march and rally to raise awareness “regarding the lack of advocacy services for survivor’s of rape and sexual violence” takes place Sept. 7.

The walk begins at noon at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Marchers will head east on Wisconsin Avenue and north on Second Street to Pere Marquette Park, where the rally begins at 1 p.m.

A news release said:

“Our culture uses the word ‘slut’ to dehumanize and delegitimize survivor’s of rape. Beyond that, it places blame on the individuals who have been survivors of rape, rather than the rapists themselves.  In Milwaukee, there are no citywide programs to ensure 24-hour access to rape crisis services. Beyond this, there is no policy in place to allow an advocate for police and court appearances. The Slutwalk movement aims to end victim-blaming and improve the city’s services for survivors.”

The first such event took place in Toronto in 2011. The Toronto campaign’s website states, “We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.”

The movement has spread to more than 200 cities.

On the Web…