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Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with survivors

With a focus on providing housing, education and holistic restoration services, Awaken stands shoulder-to-shoulder with survivors, giving them the tools they need to reclaim their lives and build brighter futures. Awaken photo

By Olivia Coffin

Contributing Writer

GREEN BAY – Awaken — a Brown County faith-based non-profit organization — is on a mission to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation.

With a focus on providing housing, education and holistic restoration services, they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with survivors, giving them the tools they need to reclaim their lives and build brighter futures.

Sex trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting of a person for a commercial sex act.

Executive Director and Founder of Awaken Wisconsin Kasia Klaus said, “Our mission is to bring awareness and education around the issue of commercial sexual exploitation, but then also to provide healing and restoration for survivors.

“So our inception was in June of 2022. So we’ve been here, going on two years now. So since our fruition, we have serviced over 150 women and girls; our youngest referral has been 11 years old and our oldest 69. And then our average age is 29.” 

Awaken has three pillars they follow that form the foundation of their approach.

“Our first pillar is prevention, it’s vital in the work we do. Through prevention education, communities gain the ability to work towards creating an environment where individuals are less vulnerable to sex trafficking,” Klaus explained.

“We always want our community — especially our parents — to be abreast of what our minors are being faced with, possibly at school, and then again, online safety. Part of that starts with the parents being knowledgeable on what to look for, and how to get involved in normalizing conversations around this issue, because trafficking itself is a heavy topic.

“Being able to help parents grasp it and understand manners, but also knowing what it looks like here in our communities.

“One of the biggest barriers we have seen is a misunderstanding of what commercial sexual exploitation looks like here in Brown County. Abduction [and] kidnapping is the perception received and that is 1% of the population we work with. Most of these individuals are groomed in situations of either being familial or romantic relationships and very rarely are they abducted or kidnapped.”

Klaus is a former prosecutor and was exposed to this issue on a judicial level.

She said that she has always had a heart for helping and due to her internship in Washington, D.C., she gained the experience and skills to help.

“People want to be the voice for the survivors, they don’t need someone to step in and elevate their voices, because they are most, some of the most resilient, strong individuals I know,” she said.

Restoration is the second pillar used in this program, and Klaus said that “Women in and out of the sex trade are sold, raped, beaten, assaulted, kidnapped and murdered at levels high above the national average. We work extensively with other community partners to help these individuals.”

City transformation is the program’s last pillar.

Klaus said that city transformation is “A key component in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in our area. We cannot combat this issue alone and need all our neighbors to be informed about this egregious human rights violation happening right here in our own backyards. We understand that raising awareness is just one step, it takes a village and Awaken aspires to be an inspirational model for other communities in the fight.”

Using these pillars Awaken aims to inform people that this is happening all around the world — even right here in our community.

“Unexplained injuries — is there a dominating individual not letting the patients speak, is there an older boyfriend or girlfriend that’s not letting them be separated? A dominant speaker who talks over them and looks at them to make decisions and lastly, inappropriate weather conditions, how they’re dressing. Hotel keys, rules of cash, multiple phones — there are so many different avenues — especially with law enforcement. We say if you pull an individual over… if they don’t even know what city they’re in or where they are, that’s another red flag.

“A huge way how we’re going to get ahead of this is by doing prevention work with those vulnerable populations.”

“At Awaken we have a shower, food, peer support groups and a clothing boutique. In addition to that, we provide a warm line so having an advocate available, again, it’s not a crisis sign, it’s more of a warm line, but an advocate is usually available 24/7 to be able to assess any needs at that time. And, you know, if it’s an individual that does need more of a crisis request, we work with various agencies in our community to try to address those. We also have an advocate that goes in the jails so we have a jail outreach.” Klaus stated.

For more information, visit  www.awakenjustice.org/awaken-wisconsin or contact [email protected].

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Awaken at 920-333-1701.

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