The sun shines on a Tuesday morning in Milwaukee, making it finally feel like the first week of summer. At exactly 10:13 a.m., and not a minute before, Dana World-Patterson, chairperson of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee (HTTFGM) steps up to the podium in front of Central Library on West Wisconsin Avenue. […]

The sun shines on a Tuesday morning in Milwaukee, making it finally feel like the first week of summer. At exactly 10:13 a.m., and not a minute before, Dana World-Patterson, chairperson of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee (HTTFGM) steps up to the podium in front of Central Library on West Wisconsin Avenue. She is wearing a grey shirt with one number on it: 13. Behind her stand more than 40 people wearing the same shirt in red and green.

The number, often thought of as unlucky, is the mark of the new campaign from the HTTFGM. But it is more than unlucky. According to HTTFGM, 13 also marks the average age of girls being groomed and sold for sex.

The HTTFGM has teamed up with Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Health Department, Clear Channel and Serve Marketing to bring awareness to human trafficking in Milwaukee. Tuesday’s presentation unveiled 60 bus shelters around Milwaukee that will display ads featuring the number 13 with a child’s face superimposed on the number. Along with the bus shelters, billboards will display the message and the number 13 has been spray painted on streets all around Milwaukee. All will guide people to the website, unluckythirteen.org.

“We will put a face on this crime and its victims will be heard,” Clear Channel President David Ford says. “We will offer a life raft for those in need and help put human traffickers out of business.”

Human trafficking has been a problem throughout all 72 counties of Wisconsin, and just last week, the FBI rescued 168 victims of child prostitution during their annual national crackdown, six of whom were from the greater Milwaukee area.

“We must do something about it,” Milwaukee City Health Commissioner Bevan Baker says. “This is about saving Milwaukee’s future, saving our children.”

Bringing awareness to the problem is the main goal of the campaign, but organizers also want to train people to spot the warning signs. Along with the spokespeople from the groups involved, two women shared stories about their experiences with human trafficking in Milwaukee. Both stressed the importance of surviving as they deal with the repercussions.

“I am so grateful for the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee because they have put their foot down and said ‘No more.’ So we are taking back our girls, taking back our youth, and taking back our city,” April Bentley, a survivor of human trafficking, says.

Gary Mueller of Serve Marketing was approached by the HTTFGM last month to spearhead the campaign.

“We all know that prevention starts with awareness,” Mueller says. “That’s the key. And that’s what the 13 campaign is all about, spreading the message that human trafficking really does happen in Milwaukee and that we all have to be vigilant about it.”

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