Rachel Monaco-Wilcox talks with LOTUS Client Sandrea Smith, Untold Stories writer and survivor advocate for Native and Indigenous women. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part feature on sex trafficking education in one diocesan community. Rachel Monaco-Wilcox was introduced in the last article; a Milwaukee-based lawyer, she founded LOTUS Legal Clinic, which works with trafficking victims. Spooner Memorial Library hosted a Sept. 12 presentation by Monaco-Wilcox.

Sexual harassment cases have been all over the national news of late, but Rachel Monaco-Wilcox warns against misunderstanding “shades of victimization” that “may not actually get us where we need to go” in terms of addressing the sexual assault of a child.

Noting that adults themselves can have experiences of victimization that can impede addressing these issues with young people, the victim advocate asks, “Do our children feel safe in this sexualized world? Are we preparing them for the world they are growing up in?”

Monaco-Wilcox believes media curriculum can make a real difference.

“Teach kids at an early age how to be responsible consumers of media messaging,” she advised.

She encouraged any educational effort that enables parents to be proactive, with informed confidence and relevant information. Believing “it’s not all on parents,” she advocates communitywide efforts to help walk parents and mentoring adults through these issues.

“Focus on the positive … you sell something not out of fear. But let’s be really proactive about our most precious resource,” she said. “That is the health and wellbeing of our children.”

Believing children are often given freedom they are not capable of handling, Monaco-Wilcox said, “Let’s come together … and understand these are the conversations that protect our kids from vulnerabilities across the board.”

The Catholic Herald asked Monaco-Wilcox about reports discrediting the research on the negative effects of pornography and its connection with sex trafficking. Mindful of this, she responded, “I am also highly suspicious of who is funding that research, especially since it came out so quickly after some of the original research showing the strong connection.

“Bottom line, I trust the studies that are peer-reviewed, longitudinal and cross-sectional, and what those show since the 1990s is that porn is linked to addiction, acceptance of rape, and increasing tolerance of violence among both males and females,” she added.

The profitable commercial sex industry follows a supply-and-demand business model. While reduction of demand is not something families, church and civil communities can directly influence, targeting vulnerabilities of those preyed upon is within reach.

At the November Human Trafficking Conference in Wisconsin Dells, chilling new techniques were shared of how traffickers target homeless teens purporting to help them out of difficult family situations. Monaco-Wilcox said one offender who was caught through an undercover sting bragged to the arresting officers, “’If you think I’m a monster now, wait til I get out of prison the next time.’”

“How do you prevent that guy from ever hurting your own kid?” Answering her own question, Monaco-Wilcox added, “Well, keep your kid from running away from home, as much as you can.”

Yet, that man, a registered sex offender, is himself someone’s son or brother.
“We just don’t pay attention to the patterns of childhood victimization,” she said. “We’re really not looking at how to break cycles of abuse so that we don’t end up with more and more just coming out in different ways over time.”

When asked about the effectiveness of sex offender registries, Monaco-Wilcox said they are “very ineffective.”

She clarified, “We’re not directing resources toward rehabilitation. Putting someone on a registry does nothing but impair them from leading a normal life – the opposite of what you want.” Rather then offering proper and effective treatment, the isolation and labeling under the current system sets the stage for repeat offenses.

Monaco-Wilcox was encouraged by knowing her participation in this article could “harness the power of a whole segment of the population who cares enough to actually make an impact.” Affirming that “stable homes are more empowered … to be movers and shakers,” she challenges readers to “reach outside your comfort zones.”

She also acknowledged the “tremendous amount of work” done by women’s religious communities to increase awareness and help victims, especially in Wisconsin. Their “high-impact efforts” have made a difference for organizations like Monaco-Wilcox’s LOTUS Legal Clinic, allowing them to provide victims with free legal help.

The third and final presentation in Spooner, which relates to Monaco-Wilcox’s comments on youths’ digital consumption, was co-sponsored by the Spooner Area Schools, Spooner Schools PTA and Lakeland Family Resource Center. On Nov. 14, an evening showing of “Screenagers” at Spooner High School was offered to the community, following the daytime viewing of the film by fourth- through 12th-grade students.

Exploring the impact of screen time on youth, “Screenagers” also offers suggestions for balanced used of electronic devices. The Catholic Herald spoke with Lakeland Family Resource Center’s Jacquie Buchmann about the event; there was “good feedback from the students” who viewed it, she said, but the evening event was attended by very few parents.

Reporter’s note: Chosen, the trafficking toolkit distributed to parishes across the diocese, was incorrectly attributed to only one congregation; rather, it was developed by multiple congregations within the Leadership Council of Women’s Religious Region 9, comprised of the State of Wisconsin.

Learn more

Related resources:

Available for contact:
Brett Heino at 715-914-0795
Sr. Celine Goessl, SCSC at

Rachel Monaco-Wilcox at
lotuslegal.org or 414-885-1469