Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Sex trafficking a local, real problem

 


“Young girls and young boys are being lured into sex trafficking,” said Sue Hilliard of the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force to the Carlton County TRIAD and the Fond du Lac Elder Concerns Group on Wednesday, November 4.

The statistics of how many young people are victims of sex trafficking are startling: 13 percent of the youth of the nation are victims, said Hilliard.

The average age of girls first victimized and prostituted is 12 to 14.

Fifty percent of the total sex trafficking victims are classified as youth living on the street.

Domestic prostitution (sex trafficking) victims experience extreme violence, forced drug use and constant threats.

Hilliard said the problem exists in Lake County, located north of the Duluth area, and in every other county in the state and nation.

“Every community has restless kids,” said Hilliard. “What is there to entertain young people in your community? There are kids who don’t love sports, drama and other school activities. Many of the kids are neglected, abused and in foster care. The perpetrators know this. When the kids get out of foster care, they see them. The kids are unhappy.

“Racial and ethnic minorities are among the most trafficked. They are mostly runaway, 'throwaway' kids ...

“Those guys make promises to give them things they want, like a cell phone or nice clothes or a Hollywood career.”

“Who is buying our kids? It could be the guy behind you in line at the grocery store, or at school or even in church. It could be a friend of their boyfriend’s, or even law enforcement sometimes.”

Hilliard went on to explain, once a young teen is under the control of a perpetrator, they don’t know how to get out. The perpetrator keeps them under control with beatings, by controlling the amount of food or drugs the victim will get, and by threatening to harm their families, even their pets.

The pimps use the victims to earn money for them.

“Perpetrators can sell an ounce of heroin once, compared to selling a young lady five to 10 times a night,” said Hilliard. “If a child of 14 is used for sex trafficking, she will have been raped by 4,000 men by the time she is old enough to get a driver’s license, 8,000 men by the time she is old enough to vote, and 21,000 men by the time she could buy her first beer.

“Her social development stops, she will never go to the senior prom, she won’t date, she won’t be able to get a driver’s license, she doesn’t have money, and she won’t develop life skills, like learning how to cook.”

In the larger picture, Hilliard explained sex trafficking is a $9.8 billion business.

“We are all losing,” she said. “That money is not taxed, and 100,000 children are taken out of society and won’t go on to their future. That is an even bigger loss than the money.”

Hilliard listed the signs of what to look for in a person who is caught up in sex trafficking: not free to come and go as she wishes; is under 18 and providing commercial sex acts; is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid; is afraid of law enforcement, avoids eye contact, lacks health care/may appear malnourished; shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, torture or confinement; has few possessions, including money, personal ID, ability to speak for herself/himself; or does not know where she is or what time it is.

The public can become first responders by watching the people around them and looking for the signs.

Hilliard suggested volunteering at organizations that provide services, and by giving donations of money and time.

“If you see something, say something,” is the motto the task force uses.

“The main reason law enforcement is able to find perpetrators and convict them of a criminal act is that ordinary people called 911 and reported it,” she added.

People can also call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

“Be sure to have a lot of information to give when you call,” Hilliard told the group. “Try and get a license number, a description of the vehicle and the approximate age of the man and the girl.

“Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor Law a few years ago,” she added. “The girls are recognized as victims, not criminals.

“In a program called ‘No Wrong Door’ a victim can go to a hospital, a school or a law enforcement center, where they will be directed to where they can get the help they need.”

The new law has been funded and some of those funds pay for training law enforcement officers.

“It’s a free training but we still have to pay for staff time to attend the trainings,” said Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake. “We are reimbursed $100 per officer to help offset the staff costs. But we haven’t had the trainings in Carlton County yet.”

Lake said sex trafficking hasn’t been an issue in Carlton County. She said it is probably happening, but the victims do not come forward.

Hilliard agreed little can be done if the victims are not willing to testify. Another way has to be found to stop sex trafficking.

Educating young people about recognizing the signs and what to look for if approached, is one way to stop them from becoming victims.

“If we can stop one girl from getting involved with a pimp, it will be worth our efforts,” Hilliard concluded.

Find the Lake County Task Force on Facebook or contact Hilliard by email at suehilliard@lakeconnections.net. She can be reached at (218) 834-4639.

 

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