By Brandi Makuski
The second annual fundraiser to support human sex trafficking awareness returns to the Holiday Inn on Jan. 20.
Tattoos for Triumph brought over 1,000 people to the city’s east side convention center last January, most who came seeking the $30 tattoo deal offered by more than two dozen tattoo artists who volunteered their time for the event. A series of massage chairs and other services were also offered during the event for a small fee, along with kids activities, dozens of assistance agencies in attendance, and community speakers.
All told, said Ally Burke, who organized the event with her husband Morgan, the group raised nearly $10,000 in one day.
“We split the money between Project Respect, which is based in Milwaukee, and Damascus Road, which is out of the Fox Valley,” Burke said. Both organizations assist trafficking victims with shelter and other emergency resources, as well as referrals to other assistance agencies.
But the high turnout last year meant long lines started to form about two hours before the event even began, meaning some were turned away—and it’s a learning experience Burke said she took to heart.
‘It’s true, some people weren’t very happy,” she said. “We’ve never done something this big. It’s a first-come, first-served basis and there’s always going to be people unhappy. The negative feedback was hard for me because I put a lot of heart and soul into this, and the artists, too—they are our friends and they took it hard. But we took a lot of the negative feedback and tried to make it easier this year.”
This year, the group will offer 50 guaranteed spots in line for tattoos and 25 guaranteed spots for massage and henna chairs. The group is also holding a raffle and giving away gift certificates during the event, with details available on the event’s Facebook page.
Also new this year, Burke said, is the inclusion of a professional drag queen, DivaDis Fabulous, who will emcee the event.
“We didn’t talk about the LGBT community last year, and how serious the trafficking problem is for them,” Burke said. “It’s not just women and children who are affected by sex trafficking; I want to bring all the issues forward.”
The event almost didn’t happen this year, according to Burke. The negative feedback from last year’s event weighed heavily on her—“People can be very mean on Facebook,” she said—but after a chance meeting with a local 20-year-old woman who said she was a sex trafficking victim in need of help, Burke said she changed her mind.
“Events like this are so important because there are people who need help, people we don’t even know about, people right here in Central Wisconsin,” she said. “That conversation changed everything for me, gave me renewed hope that we’re doing something good and raising awareness.”
The National Human Trafficking Hotline took over 100 phone calls in 2018, according to its website, and reported 64 cases of sex trafficking. The group also reported 91 cases in 2017 and 66 cases in 2016, though there are several groups across the state who identify as a reporting agency. It was not immediately clear how thoroughly they worked together or compiled information.
Speakers at this year’s event include sex trafficking investigators from the Wausau Police Dept. and Wisconsin Dept. of Justice. Burke said money raised at this year’s event will go towards helping local law enforcement to pay for specialized training in human trafficking.
“The real prize for me in all of this is to help the people who need the help,” Burke said. “If we keep educating and raising awareness, it may take a long time, but it will minimize this somehow.”
Tattoos for Triumph will be held 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 20 at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, 1001 Amber Ave. in Stevens Point.