MILWAUKEE - At night the streets are rough. Teenagers wander, many looking to run away. Many of those young girls end up forced into a life of human trafficking, often times selling their bodies for sex is required.
According to the FBI human trafficking is so prevalent it’s a $9.5 billion dollar illegal business in the United States and Wisconsin is no exception. It’s been found in all 72 counties in the state, southeast Wisconsin leads the way, according the Office of Attorney General
“You are really imprisoned and you can't do what you want to do. You do what you are told to do,” said April Bentley.
Bentley can attest to the lifestyle. She knows the underground world all too well because she was living in it for 19 years.
“Someone stole me, they stole my innocence they stole my youth,” added Bentley.
At age 14, after her parents separated, Bentley became friends with a woman.
“She looked like an angel but she was really a devil in disguise,” explained Bentley.
The woman gained April’s trust then trapped her in a life of sex trafficking.
“She told me someone wanted me to make breakfast for him and he would pay me $200.00. But of course I didn't go and make breakfast. ” said Bentley.
That was the beginning of her hell, which also included getting Bentley hooked on hard drugs.
“That would keep me out of my mind. You got to forgive me if I get emotional because I was really out of my mind. I knew I couldn't find my way back and I was trying. But I couldn't find my way back from that place,” said Bentley.
It’s a place Bentley was stuck in for 19 years. In that time period she said she was kidnapped, had a gun pointed to her face and beaten. But today she’s a survivor. She wrote a book entitled: “Don’t Rush to Get Old.” It details her ordeal and how her voice was silenced. Now she has regained her voice and speaks up to help other girls.
“I thank God I'm free but I have a compassion for the women who are still there,” said Bentley.
Bentley did survive; she credited her faith in God as helping her escape the life. However, many other girls are still in the sex trafficking life. They get stuck in a lifestyle at their most vulnerable moments. They trust the wrong person until they’re so deep; they don’t even realize they are victims.
“It cuts across commerce, labor and immigration issues and law enforcement issues,” explained James Comey, the director of the FBI.
Comey explained to the I-Team the federal government is committed addressing this growing crime.
“We just had a meeting at the White House where all parts of government came together to talk about this challenge of human trafficking,” said Comey.
Locally the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee is working to help survivors like Bentley adjust once they escape.
“There's a horrible fear, even though there are no walls, walls are built up in their minds that will allow them to stay,” explained Dana World-Patterson, chair of the Human Trafficking Task Force.
Through town hall forums the organization has worked to get the message out. Its message every community is at risk.
“The person is in denial if they think it’s only happening within the inner city, black girl, no father, poor that's not the truth,” said World Patterson.