September, 2019 Monthly ReflectionSeptember 12, 2019
Those Who Don’t Survive. . . And Those Who Do
By Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA
Most often we speak about the “survivors” of human trafficking when we reference people who have escaped the violent control of their perpetrators. Less often do we talk about those who do not survive, those who have died at the hands of their traffickers. This story is about Lisa McCormick and her son Jeffrey. Jeffrey did not survive the events which ultimately resulted in his death. With a home in rural Wisconsin, Jeffrey was a 17-year-old boy recruited into a sex trafficking ring out of Madison, WI and exploited until his death in September 2016. His mother, Lisa, has survived the horrific reality of losing a son who was trafficked.
Lisa never dreamed that this would happen in their family. The family moved from Alabama to Wisconsin when Jeff was in the first grade. In his rural school, Jeff tried hard to “fit in” over the years. Although making efforts to succeed in sports, it was not his thing. In middle grades, he was their best dancer, and for that he was bullied and picked on by other boys. Jeff became anxious and depressed. There were angry and violent days when he started cutting himself. At the age of eleven (6thgrade) he began using marijuana and by 7th and 8th grade was experimenting with drugs such as Triple C, an over-the-counter medication for colds. Taking 20, 40 and 60 pills at a time, Jeff developed severe gastrointestinal issues. In grade 9 he began stealing meds from his father’s medicine cabinet. Even more lethal drugs like meth, cocaine, and LSD became a regular diet for him. Changes in his skin, dry hair, panic attacks, and hallucinations were easy to see. He could no longer verbalize his needs.
In Jeff McCormick’s short life as a vulnerable youth, there are stories about running away, becoming homeless, getting picked up by men who promised him good things, but who forced him to have sex with women and dance in gentlemen’s clubs in order to make money to pay back his traffickers. He was missing for weeks, kept in a drug stupor and physically violated in various ways evidenced by the burn marks on his body. Although 17 years in age, he was considered and treated like an adult by law enforcement and transferred numerous times in and out of treatment centers, jails, shelters, and hospitals. The traffickers began threatening his mother on social media with verbal violence while insisting on knowing Jeff’s court dates. Lisa, his mother, knew nothing about what Jeff had been through—the fact that he had been sold on Craig’s list, forced to work in Sioux City, Iowa, overdosed in a hospital and eventually released to his mother.
In June of 2016, Jeff was at home as a very violent and disturbed son. He continued to run away, returning to Iowa on one occasion. A few months later on September 30, 2016, Lisa was notified by the sheriff that Jeff had died of an overdose of fentanyl laced with other substances. During funeral preparations, an envelope was sent to the home with photos of physical violence by the traffickers showing how they exercised control over Jeff. Two traffickers stalked the family by putting their pictures on social media, showing up at the funeral visitation and at the cemetery. Lisa states that she “lost it” at that point, vowing that she would do all in her power to prevent other families from going through such an ordeal.
Lisa has turned this experience into a personal mission to help others. She has made it her life’s purpose to share her family’s story so others understand trafficking and how easily our vulnerable children can get caught up in it. She speaks on the topics of sex trafficking, drug addiction, bullying, acceptance, and her faith throughout her personal journey as a parent survivor of a sex trafficking victim. She educates groups to encourage them to know the signs of at risk youth, to not be afraid to talk to them and show them care and to give them someone to trust. Walking alongside parents, grandparents, caregivers, and others, Lisa is a living beacon of hope so that they are not alone in this journey. She is a member of the Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Advisory Council and is featured in the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families documentary film, It Happens Here, on youth sex trafficking in Wisconsin – soon to be released along with a school curriculum on human trafficking in 2020. She is a frequent speaker throughout Wisconsin for educational and professional organizations as well as at schools, churches and public awareness events. Lisa has been instrumental in developing a program with the Janesville, WI police department called SLOTH (Supporting Loved Ones through Hardships). Over the long term, Lisa’s continuing efforts will be evident in the development of Destiny Center in Juneau County, a residential home for girls in recovery from addictions and trafficking.[i]
When the author of this column was educated by survivors of human trafficking in Washington D.C. while serving on the White House Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (2012-2013), survivors would convey that the life expectancy of trafficked individuals, particularly women, was between 37-50 years of age. The reasons were obvious: their bodies were spent and worn out from multiple rapes, beatings, from diseases resulting from sexual contact, multiple forced abortions and relentless work under inhuman and illegal conditions. One author states that “The average life expectancy of someone in commercial sexual exploitation is seven years. Start at 14, dead by 21. The mortality rate for someone in commercial sexual exploitation is 40 times higher than for a non-exploited person of the same age.”[ii]
The calculations are brutal, yet believable, especially when considering U.S. Life Expectancy by gender and race or ethnicity. (See the attached chart.) The data is informative and convincing that human trafficking creates a major health issue in the world. Moreover, it is a life issue which begs a place at the heart of our moral reasoning and action.
And then there are the traffickers themselves – Jeffrey Epstein, for example! He didn’t survive either! But for reasons altogether different. And that would be another story.
[i]These details of the story about Jeff McCormick, including the picture, are used with the permission of Lisa McCormick, his mother.