Dubuque Man Bikes from Omaha to Milwaukee to Raise Human Trafficking Awareness

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MTT News's picture
Michelle Phillips
Kevin Schwendinger waits for water to recede from the streets of Darlington last week. The Dubuque, IA man was biking from Omaha to Milwaukee to raise awareness about human trafficking.

MIDDLETON–Kevin Schwendinger had to change his bike route slightly due to the flooding in Wisconsin, but rain and flooding couldn’t stop the Dubuque, IA man from continuing on his mission–a 14-day, 650-mile, bike trek to raise human trafficking awareness. 

“There was a bridge out, and I had to reroute around it,” he said on Oct. 4, the night he was staying over in Middleton at Holy Wisdom Monastery.

Kevin planned the trip with his wife Lynn Keffeler-Schwendinger, who joined him on the first few days of the ride, because the couple had become more and more aware of the human trafficking problem not only in the US, but also the Midwest, including their home state. This couple’s previous mission work in Central America also made them want to help trafficking victims close to home.

“We wanted to do something more physical to raise awareness, rather than just talk about it,” Kevin explained.

He said that he and Lynn chose the route from Omaha to Milwaukee because it is popular with traffickers, with some victims taken to Chicago then dispersed from there. Some stay in the US, but most are sent to other countries. 

Human trafficking is big business. Worldwide it generated $150 billion in illegal revenue last year and is second only to drugs in the amount generated annually. Polaris Project, a non-profit that helps trafficking victims, runs a hotline and keeps statistics, estimates there are 25 million victims. 

The Polaris hotline received more than 10,000 calls from victims in 2017, a 13 percent increase from the previous year and collected data based on conversations from those who called, though a formal survey was not conducted. The majority were sold into sex trafficking rings, about two-thirds and 15 percent were trafficked for labor purposes. Of those those, about 80 percent were women. 

Minors make up 30% of human trafficking victims and this is one of the statistics that really stuck out for Kevin and Lynn. 

“According to Global Centurion's 2014 research, Trafficked Victims frequently have contact with medical professionals in health care settings including hospital emergency location and health clinics. Once diagnosed, healthcare responders and providers have unique opportunities locally to intervene on behalf of trafficked victims. Ongoing, this is a growing concern," Kevin and Lynn (ER) stated.  

As Lynn and Kevin started to plan the ride, they connected with various libraries, churches and bike groups along the route. Those groups helped them to find places to stay overnight, which was how Kevin ended up at Holy Wisdom.

Two of the main places where trafficking takes place are rest areas and hotels. Kevin said he had recently attended some conferences at hotels to help teach staff the signs to look for when someone is being held against their will. In recent years there have been several initiatives to raise awareness among truckers as well, the most well-known being Truckers Against Trafficking.

Kevin said he works with several agencies, including the tri-state Coalition Against Human Trafficking. He is not, however, soliciting funds, and as a retired instructor, he merely wants to educate people. Along his route he talks to groups at libraries, clubs and organizations and provides videos and testimony from actual victims of human trafficking. He did not have a scheduled presentation in Middleton but hoped to set something up for a later time.

“I just had the library in Monroe ask me to come back in the winter,” he stated.

Kevin said hotels and rest areas are not the only places, and that big venues often draw traffickers. He cited Sturgis, casinos and the oil field towns in the Dakotas as other hot spots for trafficking. It makes it easier to blend into a big crowd, but he added that sometimes cities can be a harder place to sell individuals. This will push the traffickers into smaller towns. 

“Every place has this problem because it is such a big industry. Many cities are in denial,” Kevin concluded.

For more information about Polaris, visit polarisproject.org, to learn more about the Coalition Against Human Trafficking, go to notrafficking.org. To find worldwide statistics from the Tip Report, generated by the US Department of State, visit www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.


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