Child sex-trafficking cases are among the most traumatic to come before the court system. In Wisconsin, there has been no comprehensive service for those young women. Not only do victims have mental and physical health needs, they also need a safe place to live that’s outside the reach of traffickers.
Seeing a need, Lad Lake, an organization that serves at-risk youths, and the state Department of Children and Families have teamed up to create the first specialized residential program in Wisconsin for girls who have been victims of sex trafficking. Five girls between the ages of 13 and 16 are enrolled in the one-year program. “Lad Lake offers a longer period of time instead of a revolving door,” said Rachel Monaco-Wilcox, chairwoman of the Mount Mary University justice department and coordinator of a legal clinic for trafficking survivors. “It’s comprehensive and takes them away from old patterns and practices, and there is completely a need for that.”
The state Department of Children and Families, which operates child welfare services in Milwaukee,
is providing funding, estimated at $125,000 for each individual who completes the program. Lad Lake, which operates facilities in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, works with 1,500 children a year and provides treatment options ranging from alternative schools to residential facilities to in-home therapy.
The Lad Lake program is based on similar programs in New York City, Portland and Seattle, and uses a three-phase model of recognizing trauma, rebuilding an individual’s sense of self and reconnecting a person with her community. The young women in the program live and attend school at a Lad Lake facility and have intensive therapy as individuals, in groups and with their families.
One key treatment is art therapy, which can help the young women discuss their experiences without speaking directly about a sensitive topic, said Erin Bostelmann, a therapist at Lad Lake. “With art therapy, you can talk about a piece of art that might be metaphorically all about you, but you’re talking about the art so it can provide that distance,” Bostelmann said. “Typically trauma is not something that heals quickly.”
Despite the trauma, the girls still have goals and aspirations, she said. “They have dreams and a lot of the girls, and kids in general, just value somebody who has information about how they can achieve that dream,” Bostelmann said. “They value that listening ear.”
Learn more at Ashley Luthern’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article: New program to help Wisconsin victims of child sex trafficking