Women work to get prostitutes off Milwaukee streets

Posted at 10:14 PM, Dec 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-06 23:14:44-05
MILWAUKEE -- A group of Milwaukee women have made it their mission to let some of societies most vulnerable women know they care.
They head out onto the streets to help the woman who work as prostitutes. Their hope is to eventually get them out of the life for good.
She is the girl you walk past on the street. Leggings, jacket, cute purple purse, she looks like she is out to meet some friends on a Friday night. But this woman, who only identifies herself as Desi, is not looking for friends. She is out on Greenfield Avenue looking for men to pay her for sex.
"I was prostituting when I was 14 or 15 years old," Desi said.
Desi said she shouldn't be put on the streets. She grew up in the suburbs with a nice family, good home. But her reason is heroin.
"The drugs is what made it go downhill," Desi said.
She said she needs to make around $350 a day to support a heroin and crack cocaine habit. But her life was spiraling before then. She and her mother had physical fights. But that was not the worst.
"I was raped when I was 11," Desi said.
She isn't alone in her struggle. Paris, another prostitute who did not want to give her last name, knows Desi from the streets. Paris grew up in poverty, she said her and her mom fought a lot. One day a stranger approached her.
"I was leaving from school on my way walking home and a grown man pulled up on me and I ended up hopping in," Paris said.
That man was a pimp. He started selling Paris to other men at just 14-years-old. When her mom found out, Paris said she got kicked out of her home.
Deanne Lawson, the director of Inner Beauty Center, a non-profit to help sexually exploited women, said it's classic scenario. The pimp was out looking to recruit.
"There has been a vulnerability created in their life, whether it is from sexual assault, whether it is from dysfunctional homes, abuse, poverty. But there has been a vulnerability created that has made them susceptible to become victimized through sexual abuse," Lawson said.
Inner Beauty Center runs a drop-in site for women working the streets to get clothes, food and a chance to get help getting out. But they know it's hard to women to come to them, so once a week, the volunteers go to them.
"The one girl we have met maybe twice, so we don't have a strong connection with her," said Dena Ziebell
the program coordinator at Inner Beauty Center. She is talking about a woman she just approached on the street near 23rd and Greenfield Avenue.
Inner Beauty Center brings items to help women working the street.
"Tonight we have hand warmers, which will be important. Hats, gloves, scarves, usually some kind of food like granola bars or apple sauce," Ziebell said.
For people like Desi, it makes a difference. She lives on the streets. She only owns four outfits and most her stuff gets thrown out.
"I don't have a home. I move from house to house. Guys I meet out on the street, I normally get to go to their house to you know change, take a shower," Desi said.
Last year, Inner Beauty Center tried to make contact with nearly 200 women. In the end, they spoke to 90, in just a small section of the south side. Their targeted area is 6th Street to 27th Street, National Avenue to Lincoln. Of the 90 women they spoke to, half were one-time contacts.
"They just disappeared. They're gone," Lawson said. "They are brought here to be trained sometimes and then they are moved on. We don't see them, we have no idea what happens to them."
That's why at every stop the urge the women to be safe. And tell them they are there ready to help when they want it.
"We are not there to judge, we are there to walk with them," said Kandis Voelske, a volunteer. 
This fall, District 2 of the Milwaukee Police Department started a Prostitution Action Plan to get more sex workers off the street. One of their community partners is Inner Beauty Center.