There are some things we would rather not know about, think about, talk about, or for that matter, write about. Sex trafficking of children is one of those things. I was invited to attend a luncheon last week sponsored by Corpus, an organization of married Catholic priests, whose featured speaker was a heroic Assistant District Attorney, Joseph R. Wall. His compassion for these young victims of the sex trade touched deeply. Wall’s presentation painfully detailed how mostly 13 and 14 year olds—although some are even younger and some older—from seriously dysfunctional families, are masterfully recruited, manipulated, and abused by their pimps who he called monsters. Wall said the City of Milwaukee is now “the Harvard” of sex trafficking and is becoming more profitable than drug trafficking, especially since Milwaukee is close to Chicago where the children are often taken because the going rate is much higher there.
I could not listen to the details of how the most vulnerable are targeted, enticed, flattered, groomed and then abused without feeling personally stunned. It left us all asking how can this happen and what can be done? Segregation and poverty were said to be the taproot of the problem. Milwaukee is one of the poorest and most segregated cities in the country. White flight to the suburbs, along with the loss of major manufacturing in the city, led to a decline in jobs that paid a living wage, which lead to a loss of self-esteem in breadwinners, which led to spiraling dysfunction in families. I truly admired Wall’s courage when he said much of the problem is here in this room citing the aversion to paying taxes that legitimately support programs to raise people out of poverty. Wall questioned the need for the, on average, $50.00 per homeowner property tax reduction Wisconsin residents will receive this year. He said we are seduced by our darker instincts—our selfish side—that tell us money is more important. He said a cost comes to living in a civilized society.
Just as we cannot realistically jail every cocaine user, Wall said neither can we jail every john or pimp. He encouraged us to learn more about this ever-growing problem. Be willing to spend money to keep families out of crisis. Educate yourself on the politicians who support the young and the poor. Programs that raise children’s self esteem are important. Breakfast in schools, school nurses, medical care, music and art programs are all an investment in our future because the children are the future.
What if the God, who mysteriously lives within each of us, can only help the children through us?