ST. FRANCIS — Sixteen congregations of Catholic sisters have purchased advertising space on local buses in Wisconsin to raise awareness of the dangers of human trafficking in the state.Buses in Milwaukee County, Oshkosh and Green Bay are carrying a message against human trafficking, courtesy 16 congregations of Catholic sisters as part of an awareness campaign. (Submitted photo courtesy the Racine Dominicans)

The ads, which feature a photo of a young girl, convey the message, “Keep children safe. End human trafficking,” and include a national hotline number and text address where victims can find help.

The ads will appear on buses in Milwaukee County through Aug. 25, in Oshkosh through 2016 and Green Bay, September through February 2016.

“We began in these locations because we know trafficking to be a problem in these cities,” said Sr. Jomarie Zielke, general vicar for the Sisters of St. Agnes and Wisconsin representative to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

For more information

For more information on the campaign against human trafficking, contact the co-chairs of the anti-trafficking task force: Renae Bauer at (920) 884-2725 or, or Jane Comeau at (608) 791-5289 or

“People still think trafficking isn’t a problem in their local communities,” Sr. Jomarie told the Catholic Herald in an email interview. “This sort of denial enables traffickers to continue to coerce victims ‘under the radar.’ We want to build the awareness that our children are at risk and to alert adults (and children) to the warning signs.”

“Buses cover a lot of territory in a day and we want to get the message out that human trafficking is unacceptable,” she added.

According to Sr. Jomarie, the LCWR has been concerned about human trafficking and sexual exploitation of people for profit through sex and labor for years.

“LCWR national had trafficking as a specifically named social issue first in 2001 and then again in 2012,” she pointed out.

The image and text of the ads currently on the buses came from a billboard posted by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, she said, noting the cost of the current campaign is $5,307.

The sisters involved in the awareness campaign are:

A New Genesis

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes

Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration

Holy Cross Sisters

Racine Dominicans

School Sisters of Notre Dame

School Sisters of St. Francis 

Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary 

Servants of Mary

Sisters of Charity of St Joan Antida

Sisters of St. Francis

Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross

Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis

Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres

Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother

Sisters of the Divine Savior – North American Province

“We want all citizens to realize our children are at risk and to take responsibility for protecting them,” said Sr. Jomarie. “We want the people not to look the other way or naively believe people aren’t being trafficked in our communities. These victims are trafficked every day for sex and labor, and it’s happening all over Wisconsin.”

An estimated 77 youth were sex trafficked in Milwaukee alone over a two-year period, 2010-2012, according to a report by the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission and Rethink Resources.

The average age of the victims is 12-17, with most between 16 and 17, according to the report.

According to a press release issued by the Catholic Sisters of Wisconsin on Aug. 11, “Wisconsin ranks among the worst states for human trafficking, with both sex trafficking and labor trafficking.”

“Our great hope is to involve all Catholics across Wisconsin in the fight against human trafficking. We hope that this campaign will spur others to fight this atrocity, especially against women and children, and somehow quell the demand that has made this a huge business,” said Sr. Jomarie.

As the awareness campaign got underway in Wisconsin, Sister of the Divine Savior Ellen Sinclair, a lawyer and member of the Salvatorian leadership team, was returning from a weeklong International Anti-Human Trafficking meeting in Rome that drew Salvatorian sisters from 28 countries to discuss their efforts against human trafficking and to learn about ways to more closely collaborate to find solutions.

In an email interview with the Catholic Herald, she described how Salvatorian sisters who work in the Holy Land assist women who went to Jordan with a promise of employment as domestic help, only to have their passports taken and then forced to work 15 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week while being subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

“It’s a complex issue that everyone needs to work together to eradicate,” said Sr. Ellen. “No one group can do it alone.”

That’s one of the reasons the Salvatorians decided to become part of the local awareness campaign, she said, describing how they have been working on the issue of human trafficking with other like-minded organizations for many years.

“We hope that people become aware that the scourge of human trafficking does not just occur ‘out there,’ but is present in our own community,” she said, adding that by including the national hotline, “we hope to reach out to victims of trafficking and to people who might know of those in need. Also, the campaign can serve as a warning, particularly to young people, of the dangers that are present.”

In addition to the bus advertising campaign, the sisters are preparing a toolkit to help Catholic parishes throughout Wisconsin educate their congregations about the dangers and prevalence of human trafficking in their own areas. The toolkits, which should be available to parishes this fall, will provide resources, statistics and information, and will encourage parishes to collaborate with local police and programs already in place in their area.