Recent estimates show that over 40 million people are victimized by human trafficking around the world, trapped in forced labor and sexual exploitation. Victims are both women and men of every age, and can be found in every country in the world, in every state in the U.S., and in every county in Wisconsin.
Ruby shared her story of survival and this powerful message during the first of a series of community trainings put on by The Center on Human Trafficking & Slavery at United Way Worldwide and UPS. The training, which will be conducted in United Ways around the country, is geared toward social service providers, educators, labor rights organizations, health care providers, and other professionals that may be in a position to identify trafficking victims.
United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County was the first United Way to participate in this training, which convened multiple stakeholders to discuss effective strategies to combat human trafficking, build partnerships, and highlight best practices.
The day started with a presentation on the scope of the human trafficking issue by The Center to Combat Human Trafficking & Slavery at United Way Worldwide.
Following this training was a panel Q&A. Joining Ruby Boggins in sharing her experience were Rosalind Metcalf, a survivor leader with Healing Starts Today; Rachel Monaco-Wilcox of Lotus Legal Clinic, and Lieutenant Dawn Jones and Officer Gerardo Orozco of the Milwaukee Police Department.
Rosalind Metcalf was kidnapped into forced labor, which eventually turned into sexual slavery, at the age of 15. “I played the piano and the violin,” recalls Rosalind, “my mom is a schoolteacher, my dad was in the military. Nothing about the box I was in said that this was going to happen to me. I had a lot of resources, but it didn’t save me.”
Rosalind now works with Healing Starts Today, a local organization that aims to end human trafficking and prevent violence through rescuing, education, and personal development. “I have had the chance to help women, children, and men heal, find themselves, educate them, and hold their hand on their journey,” said Rosalind.
Attorney Rachel Monaco-Wilcox is CEO and founder of Lotus Legal Clinic, serving victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence through trauma-informed legal advocacy. “We exist so Rosalind and Ruby never spend a day in prison or jail for crimes they did not commit,” said Rachel.
Lieutenant Dawn Jones and Officer Gerardo Orozco of the Milwaukee Police Department provided a law enforcement perspective. “The police department is shifting (on how they deal with human trafficking),” says Officer Orozco, “the old way was: take a report, put the person away, have a good day. We never thought about the next step for the survivor or how we could help them. Now, we need to start asking those questions: have you eaten today? What can I do for you?”
“(Working with) victims taught me strength, taught me what true survival was,” says Lieutenant Jones. “They are the most amazing people that God has ever put in my life.”
Audience members asked questions and spurred discussions about the greatest need still to be met when it came to human trafficking, and what United Way’s role could be. Panelists shared that finding a safe place for survivors to stay was a challenge, along with helping them find jobs and resources to resume a normal life.
“As law enforcement, that’s one of our biggest struggles,” said Officer Orozco, “We don’t want to just place them back in their home. They are either running from or to something, and we may be placing them back in a bad situation by bringing them home.”
“We have a lot of people who have figured out how to survive, and the last thing they want to do is put their trust in someone else and be vulnerable again,” said Rosalind Metcalf, “We want to take something away from them that is not healthy, but we need to find something to replace it with. We need to give them employment, business skills – they look at themselves as business people, entrepreneurs – we should be helping them to develop the skills they have in a positive way.”
“United Way’s role is to normalize this issue and spearhead community development effort to get sustainable resources,” said Rachel Monaco-Wilcox, “not just when it is the hot topic and on the news every day, we are going to need to be at this for the next 20 years at least. We need someone to spearhead that effort, and United Way has the capacity, the reputation, and the power to do it.”
One audience member working in a shelter shared the challenge of finding employment for survivors who have a conviction on their record. Panelist Rachel Monaco-Wilcox encouraged employers to “ban the box” where an applicant has to indicate if they have a felony on their record. She also encouraged attendees to speak with their HR department about overlooking this type of conviction is the applicant is otherwise qualified for the job.
“For me, it was a feeling of shame, not only from my family, but from the community,” said Survivor Leader Ruby Boggans. “But, the more we talk about it, the more we put it out there, the stigma goes away.”
Panelists encouraged advocates and those who work with survivors to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. “We get wrapped up in meetings and conversations, so when the victims reach out, we are not always able to answer our phones,” said Rosalind Metcalf, “These are people who have been abused and neglected, and when we tell them ‘we are here for you’ and then aren’t, it can re-traumatize them. We need to make ourselves more available.”
After the panel, attendees had time to network and share the current work their organizations are doing, exchange contact information, and thank the panelists. After this event, United Way Worldwide surveyed participants on the training’s effectiveness, and brought the training to four other U.S. Cities: Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, and San Jose. This feedback will be used to transform this presentation into an online toolkit that can be used by any city or organization to train their community professionals on recognizing and combatting human trafficking.
Learn more about Foundations for Freedom, Healing Starts Today, and Lotus Legal Clinic.
Listen in on our conversation with Dana World-Patterson, chairperson for the Human Trafficking Taskforce of Greater Milwaukee and founder of Foundations for Freedom and Laura Johnson, a survivor leader working closely with Dana to share her inspiring story.