On Tuesday, I attended a community education presentation on sex trafficking hosted by the Crow County Board and Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted. A fellow freshman House member and colleague Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-District 64B) conducted a morning and evening session on the topic, as well as law enforcement officer training in the afternoon.
Rep. Pinto is also a Ramsey County Prosecutor. He was assisted by Hayley King, who works with exploited youth at the Heartland Girls' Ranch at Benson, Minn. Chief Exsted provided an overview of local law enforcement efforts to arrest traffickers and the exploiters, those that purchase sex.
The presentation exposed the ugly details of how young women are pulled into this activity. Pinto and King outlined the many avenues used by those that profit from sex trafficking to dehumanize and enslave vulnerable young women into becoming a marketable sexual commodity.
Traffickers prey on those they can control and will quickly turn their victims into a sellable, reusable commodity with no regard for their personal welfare or dignity.
Traffickers identify those vulnerable to coercion and dependency. That includes young people that lack healthy personal relationships with peers and adults, homeless and runaways, the drug addicted, and those who have experienced sexual molestation or physical abuse. He stressed this situation can occur anywhere; rural communities are not immune to these kinds of problems.
It is important that we educate ourselves in this area and do not hesitate to report this type of activity to authorities. Through Minnesota’s Safe harbor Law a number of community based programs are available to aid victims of sex trafficking.
Lutheran Social Service of Brainerd recently began hosting a regional navigator, which connects survivors with resources to support escaping prostitution. LSS also developed the Saving Grace program, which offers specialized foster care for youth victims.
Lutheran Social Services at (218) 824-3773 can provide assistance, including resources for victims and community response to those involved in this kind of activity. There also is a crisis hot line available at (866) 824-3770.
Of the many things I worked on this week, this was by far the most important. We all need to do our part to protect and assist those that are vulnerable to this kind of exploitation.