The turn of a new calendar year brings with it hope of new beginnings. Many of us resolve to focus on our health and others vow to find ways to help engage in our broader community.
My thoughts this month turn to plans to broaden our advocacy of issues impacting the youth, young adults and families we serve, especially with regard to our anti-sexual violence work as January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Young people who’ve experienced homelessness, housing instability and sexual violence, especially youth of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+, are more vulnerable and have a higher risk of being sexually exploited.
These young people are the focus of our efforts at Pathfinders, and we’ve received funding to increase our capacity to provide comprehensive, specialized support to youth survivors of sexual exploitation that meets their unique, expressed needs over the past few years. I’m honored to share some of these highlights.
- For starters, we’ve built a robust, effective and expert Youth Advisory Board. They bring youth survivor voice to Pathfinders’ work and to our collaborative community partners. They advise us on language and needed resources, and they help train volunteers and other professionals, like law enforcement, healthcare and government.
- We’ve added additional advocates and a therapist to help young people address their trauma, build resiliency, face their traffickers in court appearances and manage crises.
- In 2023, we will add an employment case manager this year to focus on building job skills, training and education and job placement all in an effort to reduce young people’s risk of being exploited.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
Your engagement in this work is needed to effect change. Important legislation – the Safe Harbor Bill – has been revived by a bipartisan group of state legislators. This bill would eliminate charging minors for prostitution by clarifying children under 18 cannot legally consent to sex with an adult. This could eliminate the stigma youth may feel and encourage them to seek help.
Pathfinders is leading efforts, in partnership with our colleagues at WAHRS (Wisconsin Association of Homeless and Runaway Services) to advocate for and advance this important piece of legislation. We encourage you to reach out to your State senators and representatives to ask them to vote in favor of these bills once they are formally introduced in the WI Senate and House.
Another important way people are engaging in this work is through volunteerism. Volunteer Advocates help respond to commercially sexually exploited youth ages 11-25 through in-person advocacy during medical exams/consultations and law enforcement interviews. Our team shared this feedback from one of our volunteers about a recent volunteer shift.
“It was a long night. I left there just after midnight, and was super exhausted, but none of that mattered because my heart was so incredibly full and happy to have provided her with support! I almost cried…when getting hugs from her before leaving. Definitely looking forward to growing in my advocacy skills and helping more youth!”
WAYS YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
- Get informed! Read accurate information and briefs from reputable sources (like Pathfinders) to stay up to date on the issue. We recommend listening to Dressember’s podcast series and reading this Polaris blog post to learn directly from survivor experts.
- Contact your local legislator to support bills that support youth, such as increasing the number of hours youth can stay at a confidential shelter while staff work to obtain parental consent, allowing unaccompanied 17-year-olds the right to consent to medical and mental health care while receiving shelter care and the Safe Harbor bill mentioned above. WCASA (Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault) has helpful public information.
- Support agencies who are doing the work and providing accessible, youth-driven services (like Pathfinders) through volunteering and donations.
We are grateful and honored to have the trust of so many public and private partners and donors that allow us to address the needs of Milwaukee’s most vulnerable young people. Your support allows us to meet youth and young adults where they’re at, encourages youth empowerment and promotes youth as partners in the design, delivery and evaluation of the services they count on Pathfinders to provide.
Beyond the month of January, we will continue to shine a spotlight on issues facing young people experiencing trafficking. Each and every day, Pathfinders will work to ensure that all youth and young adults are safe, healthy, independent, successful and valued.
Yours in gratitude,