Introducing our 2018/2019 Grant Partner: Pathfinders
At 16-years-old, Vanessa* found herself alone and living on the streets of Milwaukee. She knew there was a better life for her, but felt her unsafe living situation left her no choice but to run away and make it on her own. As her situation grew more desperate, Vanessa began to exchange sex for money to meet her basic needs. It wasn’t long until her situation left her vulnerable and she was taken advantage of by traffickers.
As one of the top human trafficking hubs in the nation, Milwaukee sees stories like Vanessa’s every day. Thankfully, Vanessa’s story began to change when she was connected to the New Paths program of Pathfinders in Milwaukee. Pathfinders works with over 7,000 youth in crisis every year to ensure that they are safe, self-sufficient and connected to a healthy community. The New Paths program specifically extends this service to youth and young adults, ages 11-25, who are survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The program began a little over two years ago as Pathfinders saw a growing need for a comprehensive response to the human trafficking epidemic. As a comprehensive model, the New Paths program fights sex trafficking on all sides and supports each survivor as a whole person — meeting physical, emotional and educational needs as a team. “Young people, especially youth who have experienced trafficking or exploitation, can have a lot of complex, very real needs,” explains Tricia Lewis, Program Manager for the New Paths program. “It’s often not realistic for those needs to be met by just one person.”
The New Paths comprehensive model is carried out in two main ways: outreach and advocacy. The comprehensive process begins with outreach to youth who may be vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to their living situation. Advocates spend time every day in neighborhoods of Milwaukee where youth are on the streets. They build relationships with these youth and encourage them to get connected to New Paths through their drop-in center, which provides basic needs like food, showers, clothes, hygiene items, and even assistance finding a job or housing. Through outreach, New Paths hopes to reduce the risk of exploitation for the youth they serve.
For youth who have been exploited, New Paths helps to set up a team of advocates who can provide support in a variety of areas. For survivors who are in dangerous situations, as well as those who have been able to escape, New Paths helps to meet basic needs through their drop-in center. As youth work to rebuild their lives after exploitation, their team of advocates serve as a bridge to resources in the community, accompanying youth to medical exams, law enforcement interviews, court appearances, and any other place they need advocacy or support. Advocates also work with survivors to find safe housing, employment, and educational resources. Lewis explains, “We are really supporting our youth to build a team around them of people that they feel empowered by and they choose to be on their team.” The ultimate goal in building this team is that these young people become independent and self-sufficient. Lewis jokes that they hope to work themselves out of a job.
This year, the Pathfinders’ New Paths program will receive a grant from Dressember to help as they continue to fight sex trafficking in Milwaukee. Lewis says the grant will allow the New Paths program to continue offering emergency assistance — basic physical needs, safe transportation, and safe housing — to survivors immediately after they escape a dangerous situation. The grant will also help cover operational costs and provide more opportunities for staff training, ensuring that advocates are trained and specialized to offer the best care possible.
Because of the New Paths program, youth like Vanessa are able to flee dangerous and exploitative situations, and begin to pursue the life they want. After Vanessa was introduced to the program, a New Paths advocate walked with her through the criminal justice system, where her trafficker was eventually convicted. A year and a half later, with the help of her advocate team, Vanessa is now in a safe living situation, has a job, has access to the medical care that she needs, and is on track to graduate high school.
“We are so appreciative of whatever ways you can help support,” Lewis says as she thanks Dressember advocates. “I’m just so grateful for everyone’s time and energy in raising awareness.” Thanks to your advocacy and support, organizations like Pathfinders are able to continue helping youth like Vanessa have a bright future beyond human trafficking.
*Name has been changed.
Raise your voice against slavery this December!
Commit to wearing a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, expand your knowledge on modern slavery, and be equipped to lead your community in the fight to end human trafficking. Registration is open for Dressember 2018 and fundraising has already started! Be a part of the impact for our local and global partners by creating your campaign page today!
About the Author
Erin Flippin King is a freelance writer and editor, loving life in Jonesboro, AR, with her husband, Aaron (same name, cute right?), and son, Sam. Erin enjoys dancing like a fool, joking at wildly inappropriate times, spending time in the sunshine, and Dr. Pepper. She recently earned her master's degree in Biblical Studies and Hebrew and shares her writing at erinflippinking.com.