Local Groups, People Unite to Fight Sex Trafficking (Part three in the spotlight on sex trafficking)

(Originally published in the Pine County Courier February 2, 2018)
Emilee Franklin

Local groups, people unite to fight sex trafficking

Part III in the spotlight on sex trafficking 

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Whether you first heard about it last week or have been hearing about it for years, sex trafficking affects everyone and our community is not exempt.

According to one area school counselor, there have been area students who have been trapped in it.

Last week’s story shared ways it happens, who the victims are and other surprising facts, but what, as a community, can we do with this issue and how do we fix it?

Education

One way the community can fight against sex trafficking and even help prevent others from being trafficked is through education. East Central Schools’ and WINDOW’s victim services group Teens Against Dating Abuse (TADA) is one way our community is fighting to prevent trafficking. TADA was created three years ago as a group meeting over lunch to talk about safe relationships. The group, currently 10 ninth- through 12th-graders, is supervised by school counselor Cassie Gaede who was one of the forces behind creating the group. Gaede knew what the advocates want to teach was very important and wanted to have them in the schools more than a few times a year. Gaede and WINDOW knew neighboring town Milaca had a group and modeled it similar to theirs.

East Central’s TADA group is the only group like it in the area. While advocates visit other schools a few times per year, East Central is the only school where they meet weekly. Justine Crocker, a community advocate from WINDOW, facilitates the group. They meet weekly to bring awareness to issues like sexual assault, domestic abuse, healthy relationships, sex trafficking and bystander intervention among other things.

Last year, TADA presented “In their Shoes” to 10th graders. It is a scenario game in which students read through examples of real life situations and choose how they will respond in these situations. The game’s topics include such things as sexting, pregnancy, homophobia and stalking. The game is a way to get students to talk about difficult subjects and to learn different ways to respond to tricky situations.

Teaching consent in high school has been a big focus of the group. Last year all of the seniors were shown a movie about sexual assault on college campuses in which advocates from WINDOW were there to talk about how to report assaults and what to do if assaulted. Each spring TADA presents to the elementary students on healthy relationships with adults while making pinwheels. Teaching kids about safe relationships, sexual violence and sex trafficking is especially important as it doesn’t just impact big cities or far away places.

On March 14 (Pie Day) last year, TADA students raised around $250 through a pie fundraiser towards feminine products for WINDOW while educating staff and students on domestic violence. Teachers volunteered to receive a pie to the face if they raised enough money. Students and teachers then were able to put money in the bucket of the teacher they wanted to pie. TADA plans to run the fundraiser again this year.

At the end of February, students from TADA will have the chance to go to the Mall of America for the Youth Summit hosted by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. At the summit students will get to interact with around 150 of their peers and learn more on dating violence. It will be the third year East Central’s TADA students will be attending.

Collaboration: Pine County North Stars

To help combat sex trafficking in our area, a new task force, the Pine County North Stars, was formed about a year and a half ago. “It was created with the intent to have a multi-disciplinary team that could collaborate for a common goal surrounding the sexual exploitation of Pine County youth,” says Bonnie Rediske, a social worker for Pine County Health and Human Services.

The team tries to meet on a monthly basis to discuss training and implementation of the newest guidelines established by the state of Minnesota. They consult on active investigations surrounding sexual exploitation in an effort to provide appropriate services to victims. They also work on gaining evidence to build concrete cases that can be prosecuted in court. The coalition’s objectives are to identify victims of sexual exploitation, offer services to victims and prosecute offenders of exploitation. The North Stars consist of individuals from a variety of backgrounds including advocates, county attorneys, law enforcement, tribal police, and individuals who work in probation, child protection, and tribal social services. “They all work together to identify gaps in practice and find ways to remedy those gaps,” says Rediske. The Pine County North Stars helped put on the recent forum at Grand Casino Hinckley, “Uniting to Combat Sex Trafficking,” with over 300 people in attendance.

Community awareness

One of the biggest ways an individual can help is by getting educated about sex trafficking, and educating others. This can be done by inviting an expert to speak to a group such as a church, place of employment or even a community hearing.

“Our community can help victims by becoming educated on this important subject and report concerns timely. The more our communities are educated on this, the more power we take away from traffickers and johns. Education stimulates change in our thinking and our response to any social safety concern. We cannot address a concern when we are wearing blinders to the problem,” says Rediske.

Sheriff Jeff Nelson echoed Rediske’s thoughts on education by saying, “The best thing individuals can do in this area is to bring it out of the shadows and expose it for what it is. It is one person selling another with no regard for who that victim is or what they want to do. I think the awareness that it does happen helps bring to light the fact that it could be happening around us.”

Nelson said, “Keep your eyes open — if you see something, say something.” Sheriff Nelson would rather receive calls about trafficking that they investigate and find to be false than not hearing anything at all. Nelson continued, “If you are not sure if something is suspicious, but it has gotten your attention, it is probably suspicious, that odd feeling.” Nelson said, “It could just be a simple call to set your mind at ease or pass it on; I always encourage calling 911.” Nelson thinks, in general, people need to be a lot more aware of what is going on around them.

Executive Director of WINDOW Lisa Lilja said, “This really does happen anywhere and can be happening right under your nose. Being aware and being an ally whenever you can is extremely important. Bystander intervention is huge. Be the one who is willing to stand up and stand with the victim.”

WINDOW is currently looking at options to hold a community forum on bystander intervention. Bystander intervention is where a regular person or people intervene in certain situations, such as an assault, and help diffuse the situation rather than ignore it.

Communicate with our children

With studies on trafficking claiming the average age that victims are being trafficked is 12-14, it is extremely important for parents to communicate with their children.

Nelson says, “The main thing I think parents can do is to communicate with their children. For the suspect to be successful, there usually is isolation from a support system such as family. I advocate very strongly that parents should be aware of who their kids are with and what they are doing. If they see things that are out of the ordinary, they should question it and talk to their children. If a boyfriend becomes too controlling, that could be a sign of many issues that might have unhealthy outcomes.”

It is important to monitor youths’ Internet usage and well-being. Many victims being trafficked today were found by their pimps online.

Other ways of prevention

There are many ways that people can get involved with helping prevent human/sex trafficking. One simple way is to donate your time to an organization that is fighting sex trafficking such as the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, WINDOW, Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA), among many others. Monetary donations help these organizations continue and are welcomed.

Another huge way to help these victims is by being an ally, or listening ear. If a victim comes to you to talk, do not judge; be supportive, and let the victim speak. If the first person the victim speaks to judges them for being trafficked, they may be reluctant to reach out to others or receive help.

In a slightly different situation, if someone distressed comes to you and asks to use your phone for an emergency, let them use it if you feel comfortable. While there are many resources for victims and hotlines for help, many victims do not have access to a phone to be able to call.

The last obvious way of combating sex trafficking, and perhaps the most important, is by refusing to participate in any activity that contributes to the buying and selling of human beings for any purpose.

Safe Harbor Law

Minnesota has The Safe Harbor Law which was passed in 2011. Since 2011, the new law states that Minnesota youth who engage in prostitution are viewed as victims and survivors, not criminals. “They will be treated with dignity and respect, and directed to supportive services, and shelter and housing that meets their needs and recognize their right to make their own choices,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health. On July 1, 2016, a change was made, and Safe Harbor services were made available to individuals 24 and younger, increasing the prior eligibility age for services from 18.

Local resources for victims

WINDOW, Hinckley and Carlton.

WINDOW, which helps individuals in Pine, Kanabec and Carlton counties, is able to connect victims to housing, therapy, medical treatment and other services. WINDOW stands for Women In Need Depending on Other Women. All advocacy services through WINDOW are free and confidential.

We realize each victim is unique and only move to services that victims feel comfortable engaging in. Our first priority is safety for the victims in these situations so that they can feel supported in a situation where common stigma has labeled them historically as criminals,”says Lilja.

WINDOW’s 24/7/365 Crisis line: (320) 384-7113.

PAVSA, Duluth.

PAVSA is a nonprofit rape crisis center which helps individuals living in St. Louis County and surrounding areas. PAVSA’s sex trafficking program provides a plethora of services to victims including 24-hour crisis response to exploited youth, advocacy and case management, legal/systems advocacy, support groups, outreach groups, youth development training, and a trafficking emergency fund.

PAVSA’s crisis line: (218) 726-1931.

Polaris Project.
Polaris Project is a national organization which can help connect victims to appropriate free resources.

National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888.

Polaris BeFree Textline: Text “BeFree” (233733).>

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