Estimating the Magnitude of Sex Trafficking Risk and Victimization of Juveniles and Young Adults

City of Milwaukee - January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2016

A Report by Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, Rethink Resources, Medical College of Wisconsin Institute for Health & Equity, Milwaukee Sexual Assault Review, and Milwaukee Police Department – Sensitive Crimes Division

Sex Trafficking

Full 2018 Report (PDF) Released: Thursday, March 1, 2018

The purpose of this report is to estimate the magnitude of sex trafficking of juveniles and young adults in Milwaukee and establish a baseline to better inform future interventions for individuals who are victims and survivors of sex trafficking.

Key Statistics:

  • 340 individuals ages 25 and under were confirmed or believed to be victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2016.
  • Because complete demographic and historical information was not available for all individuals identified, 231 individuals were analyzed for this report. Of these, the majority were:
    • Female (97% or 225 individuals)
    • Black/African American (65% or 149 individuals)
    • Confirmed victims of sex trafficking (81% or 187 individuals). The demographic and historical information of individuals confirmed and individuals believed to have been sex trafficked were nearly identical, except that individuals who were confirmed to have been trafficked were more likely than individuals believed to have been trafficked to have a reported history of sexual assault victimization and a history of being reported as a missing person to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD).
    • Identified as having a reported interaction with the MPD other than the incident through which they were classified as having been trafficked or believed to have been trafficked (86% or 199 individuals). Types of incidents included sexual assaults, battery/domestic violence incidents, child abuse, drug crimes, and missing reports. A category “other” was included incidents that did not fit any of the other victim history categories.
    • U.S. citizens or those with legal status (100%).
    • Juveniles (55% or 126 individuals) at the first reported incident of suspected or confirmed sex trafficking; the remaining 105 individuals (45%) were between the ages of 18 and 25 at the first reported incident of suspected or confirmed sex trafficking.
    • 60 individuals were identified as having been trafficked multiple times.
    • Fifty-nine percent (136 individuals) had a history of being reported missing at least once. Of those 136 individuals, 59% (80 individuals) were reported missing from out of home care (e.g., group homes and foster care) at least once.


Recommendations were generated by presenting the preliminary analysis of the data to partners in the Milwaukee Sexual Assault Review (MSAR), Proactive Outreach for the Health of Sexually Exploited Youth (POHSEY), Collaborative Rapid Advocacy for Youth (CRAY), criminal justice practitioners, and several group homes in the City of Milwaukee. Recommendations fall into one of three categories: prevention, protection and intervention, and suppression. Prevention recommendations focus on preventing sex trafficking through education and programming support for at-risk youth and their families. Protection and intervention recommendations focus on protecting at-risk youth living in group homes, improving communication and collaboration between providers serving juveniles who were sex trafficked, and identifying and addressing the unique needs (including drug addiction, chronic homelessness, and vocational support) of adults who are victims of sex trafficking. Suppression recommendations aim to change the discourse and culture of human trafficking prevention and intervention: focusing enforcement efforts on purchasers of commercial sex, raising sentences for sex traffickers and purchasers, and eliminating redundant laws.

Further Research:

Due to the volume of the data collected, multiple supplements to this report will be released at a later date. Supplements will include additional data, data analyses, discussions, and recommendations.

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The first analysis to assess sex trafficking of youth in Milwaukee occurred in 2013 when the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission (MHRC) authored a report that identified 77 sex trafficked youth between 2010 and 2012. Similarly, Proactive Outreach for the Health of Sexually Exploited Youth (POHSEY) conducted a study that identified 143 sex trafficked youth in Milwaukee in 2014. Additionally, the State of Wisconsin submits crime data annually to the FBI, including human trafficking data. In 2015, four sex trafficking incidents were reported in the State of Wisconsin, resulting in two being cleared and zero arrests (FBI, 2015). In 2016, 34 sex trafficking cases were reported in Wisconsin, of which 19 were cleared and 13 adults were arrested (FBI, 2016). These disparate numbers can be explained in part by the methods through which trafficking cases are identified and reported. Clearly, further analysis is needed to estimate the magnitude of sex trafficking occurring in Milwaukee.

As a direct result of the 2013 MHRC sex trafficking report, a new Lad Lake facility outside of Milwaukee County was created with 6 beds to serve juvenile survivors of trafficking. The goal of this report is to expand the knowledge of sex trafficking in Milwaukee. Compared to the 2013 report, this report analyzes victims from a wider age range, over a longer period of time, and uses more comprehensive methods for identifying incidents of trafficking using law enforcement data. Measuring the prevalence of sex trafficking is difficult, and much of the academic literature focuses on the circumstances surrounding trafficking including identifying at-risk youth involvement in the commercial sex trade, risk factors for victimization, the implications of human trafficking laws and responses to human trafficking (Hammond & McGlone, 2014). Therefore, this report is meant to serve as a baseline.

In 2015 the Milwaukee Police Department – Sensitive Crimes Division and Sojourner Family Peace Center were awarded the Enhanced Collaborative Model to Combat Human Trafficking grant through the U.S. Department of Justice - Office of Justice Programs. One of the deliverables required to satisfy the purpose of the grant is the development of a public awareness curriculum directed at various audiences to include health, law enforcement, code enforcement, social workers, transportation workers and schools. This report fulfils this requirement as it increases the capacity of community members and service providers to understand and recognize human trafficking through the analysis of law enforcement data.


Thank you to the Bob and Linda Davis Family Fund for commissioning, supporting, and encouraging the development and completion of this report. There are also many individuals, agencies, and organizations that have provided support, and whose guidance and expertise have been invaluable in completing this report.

The Milwaukee Sexual Assault Review (MSAR) informed research questions, provided input on and interpretations of the data based on partners’ professional experiences, and actively generated and contextualized recommendations. Project partners are also in the process of obtaining and incorporating data from MSAR partners Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, and Wisconsin Department of Justice - Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI) for future supplements of this report.

Proactive Outreach for the Health of Sexually Exploited Youth (POHSEY) has been an instrumental partner, providing interpretations of the data and recommendations from medical perspectives. Additionally, an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Wendi Ehrman of POHSEY seeks to incorporate POSHEY data for future iterations of this report, furthering the understanding of sex trafficking from multidisciplinary perspectives. 

Collaborative Rapid Advocacy for Youth (CRAY) informed recommendations from advocacy perspectives and provided additional interpretations of the data based on their experiences and expertise in social service provisions.


Cole, J., Sprang, G., Lee, R., & Cohen, J. (2016). The Trauma of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth: A Comparison of CSE Victims to Sexual Abuse Victims in a Clinical Sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 122-146.

Department of Children and Families, (2017). Wisconsin’s Child Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Indicator and Response Guide. Retrieved from here.

Dikanovic, A.(2016). A Crime Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Milwaukee. Retrieved from

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Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), (2017). Operation Cross Country XI. Recovering Underage Victims of Sex Trafficking and Prostitution. Retrieved from here.

Gentry, J. (2017). Child Welfare Services in Wisconsin. Retrieved from here.

Hammond, G., & McGlone, M. (2014). Entry, Progression, Exit, and Service Provision for Survivors of Sex Trafficking: Implications for Effective Interventions. Global Social Welfare, 157-168.

Lange, A. (2011). Research note: Challenges of identifying female human trafficking victims using a national 1-800 call center. Trends in Organized Crime, 14, 47–55.

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Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, (2013).  Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department. Retrieved from here.

Milwaukee Police Department, (2017). Standard Operating Procedure 263. Records Management. Retrieved from here.

Sullivan, Z. (2015). Hub of Human Trafficking: Underground Sex Trade Thrives in Milwaukee. The Guardian. Retrieved from here.

Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), (2015). Human Trafficking. A guide for criminal justice professionals. Retrieved from here.