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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Theaters and Truck Stops

Photo by Ricky Labrada

Across the nation, nonprofits, actors, Marquette students and even truckers are fighting human trafficking and helping victims in their own ways.

These organizations function in different capacities and offer various services, but one thing nearly every group agrees on is there is significant misinformation about human trafficking. One misconception is that people who are trafficked step into the cycle willingly.

Mary Leach-Sumlin says this is not the case.

Leach-Sumlin is the associate director of Franciscan Peacemakers Street Ministry and the director of Clare Community, a two-year residential community where women who were previously trafficked receive financial and legal support, as well as intensive outpatient treatment for addiction.

“It’s a time for them to not have to worry about paying living expenses while they work on themselves, getting ready to lead a full life outside of Clare Community,” Leach-Sumlin says.

Leach-Sumlin says she often meets people who think women involved in trafficking are willing participants. Previously, she even thought that herself. However, she says trafficking stems from an invasion of trust or sexual abuse.

“Everyone has their own story and their own experience, but it usually comes from being taken advantage of in some way,” Leach-Sumlin says.

The Franciscan Peacemakers also provide employment opportunities for the women living in Clare Community. Through the Franciscan Peacemakers’ social enterprise Gifts for the Journey, the women hand make soaps, lotions and candles. They also participate in the distribution of these products.

Since the Clare Community residence opened in 2013, one woman has completed the program and currently works as a production manager for Gifts for the Journey.

At a boutique on West du Lac Avenue in the Sherman Phoenix, similar efforts are being made to employ those who stepped out of the cycle of trafficking. Queen’s Closet boutique is a consignment shop that grew out of a nonprofit called Grateful Girls, which was founded by Executive Director Chandra Cooper.

Cooper said one of the ways to help women get out of trafficking is to provide care and employment opportunities.

“Our hope and our goal is to have Queen’s Closet be a place that gives hope and sustainable living as well,” Cooper says.


Sold Out, a student organization at Marquette, aims to raise awareness about human trafficking and support those exploited by the sex trade.

Chloe David, co-president of Sold Out and a junior in the College of Engineering, says the club is named for its purpose.

“We are trying to get those who are sold, out,” David says.

One of the organization’s goals is to educate the Marquette community about human trafficking, David says.

“I’d just like to see that a large population of Marquette students know that human trafficking is such an issue here,” David says.

The club organizes events such as an annual 5K and an information session at the Alumni Memorial Union to raise awareness and funds for the cause.

Sold Out also participates in Shine a Light on Slavery Day, a human trafficking awareness day initiated by a national coalition of organizations called the “End It Movement.” This year the day fell on Feb. 7. Members of Sold Out had a table at the AMU where students and faculty could learn about human trafficking. Student could also get a red X on their hands to show support for the fight against trafficking.

“If no one’s aware of it, there’s nothing we can do to fix a problem as big as human trafficking,” Alysia Santamaria, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, says. “Spreading awareness and increasing education is the first step. I hope people walk away from the table thinking about human trafficking and taking a pause in their day to really think about this issue.”

Sold Out has a goal to support other local organizations that provide resources and opportunities for people affected by trafficking.

Sold Out makes lunches and raises money for two local organizations. One is Ruby’s Place, a nonprofit providing shelter and services for victims of domestic violence or human trafficking. Inner Beauty Center, the other organization, provides a number of different services each week supporting women affected by trafficking. These services include haircuts, clothing, meals and a support group called “Chick Chat.” On Mondays and Fridays, a team from the center goes out into high-trafficking areas to provide food and personal care items.

Deanne Lawson, the executive director and founder of Inner Beauty Center, first opened the organization’s doors in 2012. She says they find most of the center’s visitors through street outreach.

As women begin to frequent the center, Lawson says the center’s goal is to build a trusting relationship with each individual. From there, the center supports women through whatever they need next, whether that be getting drug rehabilitation, a GED certificate or relocating.

“We’re really an entry point,” Lawson says. “Our goal is client advocacy. We are there to walk them through their journey.”

Lawson says women are often tempted to return to the sex industry because they cannot find a financially stable life outside of it.

She thinks women are more successful when they relocate outside of Milwaukee because they can make a fresh start. When women stay in Milwaukee, Lawson explains, they are likely to run into people they know from the sex industry network.

When confronting the difference between trafficking and prostitution, Lawson explains there is large overlap between the two. The majority of times, people in the sex industry are victims of trafficking, Lawson says.

“Typically, most women who are in the sex industry and not under a pimp have been under a pimp in the past,” Lawson says. She says she uses the term “prostituted woman” rather than “prostitute” because most of these individuals are under a form of coercion, whether that be a pimp, drug dependence or a lack of money.

“We want to take away that one thing that makes them think they should go back to the streets,” Lawson says.

Prior to the center’s establishment, Lawson had little to no understanding of trafficking. In 2011, a girl who was being sex trafficked approached her at her church and said, “God told me if I came in, you would help me.”

Lawson went on to help the girl return home to her mother and after that she knew she had to do something.

“We began to understand the issue was happening right on our steps,” Lawson says.

According to data provided by Lawson, Inner Beauty Center was visited by 103 women, served 480 meals and accumulated contacts with 251 individuals in 2018.


Paige Szczepanek, who founded Sold Out at Marquette and graduated in 2016, spends two Friday evenings each month with Inner Beauty Center, distributing resources and talking to people affected by trafficking.

Szczepanek says she gets into a van with other Inner Beauty Clinic volunteers and offers — but does not force — lunches and hygiene products to people who are likely being trafficked.

“We’re not making any assumptions,” Szczepanek says. “We’re just saying you’re out on the street. It’s cold. Maybe you look hungry. Maybe you’re making eye contact, which is a very good gauge of the fact that you’re working.” Szczepanek says if the women say no, the volunteers simply move on.

Szczepanek first learned about the prevalence of human trafficking during her junior year at Marquette when she went on a mission trip to the Philippines.

A report by the United Nations Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings says, as one of the largest migrant countries in the world, the Philippines has a particular problem with migrants coming for work and being deceived, then coerced into sex trafficking.

The trip began in Manila, where Szczepanek shared information about trafficking with mothers. She went on to the red light district in Angeles City. There, she stayed with girls who had recently broke out from the cycle of trafficking.

Szczepanek says the trip opened her eyes. When she returned to Milwaukee from the Philippines, she asked herself, “What is actually being done for the city that I live in?”

A year later, she founded Sold Out. Since then, she had lunch with University President Michael Lovell, wrote several articles and spoke over 20 times, educating the Marquette community about human trafficking.


Awareness does not always come in the form of exhibitions or tabling. At Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theaterworks, awareness is raised in the form of theater. In January 2018, the organization put on a production of “Russian Transport,” a play in which a family immigrates to America and finds themselves involved with human trafficking.

Renaissance Theaterworks partnered with three organizations to aid them in their production: Exploit No More, Lotus Legal Clinic and the Benedict Center.

“Because ‘Russian Transport’ talks about human trafficking, it was the perfect time to partner with some of the organizations in our community that work hard to prevent those things from happening,” Suzan Fete, the theater’s artistic director, says.

Each organization worked with the cast to teach them about human trafficking. Fete draws similarities between “Russian Transport” and her experience with the organizations. One of the most significant takeaways is human trafficking often has a familial origin.

“It was inspiring to everyone that worked on the show to know that this is a problem happening right in our community,” Fete says. “Milwaukee is a sex trafficking hub. I think it made all of us feel that this was truly an important story.”

After one performance of “Russian Transport,” representatives from the three collaborating organizations took the stage to speak about human trafficking in Milwaukee and to answer questions from the audience.

During the production, Renaissance Theaterworks also held a donation drive for Exploit No More, which is a nonprofit that raises awareness, advocates and provides aftercare for child victims of trafficking in Milwaukee. All the donations went to people who are at risk or were affected by trafficking.

“Our organization in general is a believer in holistic awareness,” Melania Klemowits, the executive coordinator of Exploit No More, says. “Not only did (‘Russian Transport’) offer a story about what trafficking looks like, but it also offered a way for people to become aware without having to sit and listen to me talk for an hour.”

Awareness is one of the core approaches Exploit No More undertakes. Klemowits says research points to awareness as the most significant area for dismantling human trafficking. This is partly because to pursue direct aid for victims such as advocacy and aftercare, awareness is needed.

“Aftercare is really expensive, and there’s a lot of red tape and a lot of laws that need to be changed in order to make aftercare really effective,” Klemowits says. “With that, advocacy within the law is so important, but it’s a huge feat because it takes a lot to write a law and pass a law. So awareness and prevention on so many different levels … continue to come in first.”

Klemowits also says educating students and making them aware is a primary step to fighting trafficking.

“The most important thing is if we can offer awareness and prevention to students who may be vulnerable or at risk of being trafficked, they can then recognize what’s going on in their life or in their friend’s life, and we can avoid aftercare altogether,” Klemowits says.


One national nonprofit is mobilizing a community of 3 million people to fight human trafficking. The group has more people on America’s roads and highways than law enforcement at any given time. They are truck drivers.

Kyla Lanier, co-founder and deputy director of Truckers Against Trafficking, says the founders realized truckers happened to be in a lot of the places where traffickers were moving victims: truck stops, rest areas, hotels and motels.

“We thought, you know, how perfect if the bystander could be disrupting this trafficking network,” Lanier says. “If they could see it, recognize it for what it is and report it, law enforcement could then respond and victims could be recovered. And that’s exactly what’s been happening.”

In the 10 years since its establishment, TAT data indicates the organization has trained over 680,000 truckers, resulting in over 22,000 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. These calls identified around 612 cases of human trafficking, involving 1,133 victims.

“We’re the eyes and ears of America,” William Brady, a Minnesota trucker, says. “We’re all over the country. We wake up in the morning in one place and by evening we’re somewhere else. We’re constantly seeing things that could be out of place.”

A trucker for 22 years, Brady is constantly traveling through Midwestern states, including Wisconsin.

Brady says one of the most significant things TAT teaches is people often assume sex trafficking victims choose prostitution, when in fact they are being forced. As such, during his day-to-day routine, he looks out for body language suggesting someone is in an unwanted situation.

Though TAT’s main operation is mobilizing the trucking community to operate as lookouts, the nonprofit has nine other programs with various goals.

One such program is the Freedom Drivers Project, a mobile exhibition inside of a truck that raises awareness for human trafficking. Truckers like Brady haul the exhibition across the U.S. to trucking shows, political events, state fairs and more.

“The project is to educate members of any transportation industry, but also just members of the public because this is a crime that’s affecting all sectors,” Lanier says. “We also want to show within the (Freedom Drivers Project) how the trucking industry is making a difference and then how other industries can as well.”

Lanier says awareness is key to solving the issue of human trafficking because traffickers depend on the ignorance of bystanders.

“Traffickers count on people being ignorant and not understanding this crime,” Lanier says. “They are counting on their victims being the ones that sort of get the ire of society. So that’s people hating on the prostituted person, seeing her as the criminal, things of that nature and so on.”

TAT also advocates at the legislative level, working to make sure each state’s motor vehicle department is equipped to fight human trafficking. In the U.S., each state has a section of its state patrol that operates to regulate commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses, Lanier says.

“What we started to do was work with (those) units around the country within that state patrol by training those officers on what human trafficking is so that they would be able to identify it,” Lanier says. “No. 2 is helping them to see the importance of the trucking and busing industry in combating this crime.”

On its website, TAT recommends the Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement model created by David Lorenzen. The model’s six key components include training state patrol and other officers to respond to human trafficking incidents and distributing information about trafficking at weigh stations. TAT provides assistance to any states that are looking to adopt the model.

“Lorenzen developed a series of strategies for how they could raise awareness within the commercial industry about human trafficking, and the Iowa MVE model has now been adopted in 40 states either in part or in full,” Lanier says.

Wisconsin has adopted the Iowa MVE model in part. Lanier says TAT is working with the Wisconsin attorney general’s office to further its endeavors.

Additionally, the nonprofit is working to mandate TAT training for all entry-level commercial driver’s license holders. A bipartisan bill, 2019 Senate Bill 25, containing that mandate will be brought before the Wisconsin State Legislature this year. The bill was introduced by State Senator LaTonya Johnson and 13 other senators and cosponsored by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and 35 other representatives.

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