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McKenzie’s story: One person’s experience of sex trafficking in Madison Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Vicky Franchino, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Feb. 07, 2019 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- It’s the end of a long week. Her kids have been sick, and work is crazy busy, but McKenzie is committed to making this interview happen.

“I’ve been given a platform and that’s why I’m doing this -- it’s to help other girls.”

“This” is telling people about her experience of being trafficked in Madison.

Stresses McKenzie, “If there’s a girl who’s reading this, or who’s in an audience when I talk, that’s being trafficked, I hope she’ll want to tell someone what’s going on and come out. That’s my goal.”

Started with drugs

McKenzie’s experience with trafficking started in the same place that it does for many girls: with drugs.

Although she’s clean now, McKenzie still describes herself as a heroin addict. “I had a messed-up childhood -- not the worst you’ve ever heard of, but there was no discipline or authority. My twin sister and I started smoking and drinking when we were 12.”

They quickly graduated to harder drugs, and by 18, heroin was part of the picture.

“My sister and I needed money for drugs,” remembers McKenzie. “We were in a drugstore parking lot in Madison, and the right guy at the right time saw us. Two young, vulnerable girls and thought ‘Hey, I can work with that.’”

Experience with trafficker

McKenzie describes her trafficker as a charming guy who was convincing and manipulative. “It’s not like some guy kidnaps you and you get sold -- that wasn’t my experience, and I don’t think it was for 90 percent of the girls in this life.

“For me it was more a mind game -- there weren’t physical barriers forcing me to stay. The guy gets you to a point where he manipulates you, sweet talks you into doing what he wants. I got to a point where my trafficker was my only resource. I didn’t have anybody to go to for help.”

She says it’s important not to assume her experience is the same as others. “Two women could walk down the exact same path and their outlooks would be different.”

While most of the young women McKenzie crossed paths with during her days in trafficking were also drug addicts, she also cites mental health issues and being a runaway as likely reasons for a girl to slip into the world of trafficking.

How she got help

McKenzie credits two people for helping her get where she is today: her husband, whom she met in the early years out of trafficking, and Jan Miyasaki, the head of Project Respect.

Project Respect is a local social service agency that helps adults and juveniles victimized in sex trafficking. While McKenzie was being trafficked, she crossed paths with Miyasaki on multiple occasions, and treatment was offered each time.

It wasn’t until 2014, when McKenzie had been arrested and was alone in jail, that she decided to accept Miyasaki’s offer. “I knew I was in a lot of trouble but I’m not exactly sure why I decided to seek treatment. Maybe I was fed up. But I’ve been needle-free ever since.”

Her life today

McKenzie’s path from being a young, trafficked woman to her current roles as wife, mother, survivor, and advocate certainly wasn’t easy. “I don’t know why I stayed in treatment. Through the years, I’ve just found reasons to continue. Every day it’s different. What kept me sober yesterday isn’t necessarily the same thing that keeps me sober today.”

Today McKenzie is a peer specialist at Project Respect. “What I have now, I worked really, really hard for. Sure, there are things I wish I could change, and I wish my sister was out of this life. I own my mistakes.”

Sharing her story

McKenzie will share more of her story at Trafficking in Madison: What You Need to Know Now, a presentation being held at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church on Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.

Other speakers include Det. Roger Baker of the Madison Police Department, Tyler Schueffner of Briarpatch Youth Services, and Tracy Scheffler of Five Stones. Organizations that provide services and advocacy for trafficking victims will also be on hand.

Questions? Contact Vicky Franchino at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Debra Schroeder at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it The church is located at 401 S. Owen Dr. in Madison.

 
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