Allan Bakke, Southwest MN Regional Navigator.

Sex trafficking can hit home

Sex trafficking! Is this a metropolitan area problem that doesn’t include rural areas?
Not if you ask people like Minneota Police Chief Bill Bolt, Southwest Minnesota Regional Navigator Allan Bakke of the Southwest Crisis Center of Worthington or Melissa Bruns, program director at Hope Harbor in Marshall.
“It’s not a crime that relates just to metropolitan areas,” said Chief Bolt. “We’ve got to raise awareness in my community,” he told a group gathered to identify the problem and decide a plan of action to combat sex trafficking.
Bakke has run a “Big Buddy” program in Marshall and told the group how organized sex traffickers can be. “They have a wrist band with different colors, one for each sexual act,” he said.
Those fighting sex trafficking have a distinct target in mind: The Super Bowl that’s coming to Minnesota, for which people like Bakke are gearing up to fight.
“We’ve got to capitalize on the momentum of fighting the (expected) Super Bowl sex trafficking,” said Chief Bolt.
Wednesday Chief Bolt brought community Pastor Bruce Drackley of Hope Lutheran Church, Father Craig Timmerman of St. Edward Catholic Church, Supt. Dan Deitte of Minneota Public Schools, School Board Chairman Dawn VanKeulen and others together to explore the problem of sex trafficking.
The idea was to develop a plan to combat the problem on the community level.
Bakke indicated folks may feel they don’t have a problem in rural America. He explained a tremendous amount of sex trafficking is already occurring in the area and this, “Is the tip of the iceberg.”
While efforts such as a “sting” on sex traffickers occurred in Redwood Falls recently, and that is a way of stopping the sex ring — but the real effort should be on prevention.
Police Chief Bolt brought up the recent case of Walnut Grove Police Chief Michael R. Zeug, 45, being charged in Redwood County District Court with attempting to hire a minor for sex — which is a felony.
Operation Guardian Angel, conducted by a regional drug task force and a human trafficking task force out of Washington County, law enforcement officers posted online ads on Backpage.com and Craigslist.org “to identify those individuals who want to solicit minors for sex,” said Redwood County Attorney Steven Collins.
While “stings” like this one bring the problem to the public’s attention, Bakke said the best idea is to try and stop it before it happens.
He indicated, “The highest amount of arrests won’t come from the Super Bowl.” He said, “They come at hunting and fishing opener.”
“I stumbled across trafficking five to six years ago. It’s real. It’s happening. At the time I did not know what to do with it. Sometimes law enforcement doesn’t even see it. We had to teach law enforcement,” said Bruns of Hope Harbor.
Bakke said a survey discovered 14 percent of men represented say they have purchased sex.” In was including the Marshall area.
He said “stripping” is an profitable way for many girls to survive. “We’ve had three strip joints to deal with," he indicated. Often, sex trafficking is going on as well.
“A million kids a year run away. Within 48 hours of running way, most kids are solicited.”
Chief Bolt tried to bring the problem home. “Some people think this is Mayberry and it won’t come here.” He indicated, “What’s alarming to me is to see the people arrested and they don’t fit the (criminal) stereotype.” They look just like your friends or next door neighbors.
“What do these people look like? They look like you and me,” said Bakke.
So what can be done about it?
“Education. We need to hit the message again and again and again. And we need to do a better job of training people who work with our kids,” said Chief Bolt.
May that’s where educators like Supt. Deitte come into the picture. “It’s a matter of getting parents involved,” said Deitte, indicating, “We’ve struggled for years with getting parents involved.”
He suggested “partnering” with other towns for more involvement. “That’s a great way to do it,” Bakke said.
Bakke suggested going to the school board, church council, community groups and describe the problem.
It didn’t take long for the idea to take hold.
Pastor Drackley said he would begin by talking to his church board. Father Timmerman later emailed, “We had our council meeting in Canby and I floated this topic past them. They thought it would be a good thing to pursue. We can stay in conversation as to how would be best to include Canby on this action.”
In fact, he indicted, "They could either be invited to participate with us, or Allan could look at organizing a similar group in Canby to do it’s own thing.”
Father Timmerman indicated he would “be talking to other councils as our meetings come up.”
“A lot of people buried their head in the sand. We see an advertisement that says, 'Woman wants good time,'” said Chief Bolt.
“We followed that up and found out she had 500 responses.”
What happens when sex is trafficked and people follow is, “A life crashes and it’s not just them — it involves their family and their friends.”
Van Keulen chimed in by asking, “What is our goal? Is it to stop it; closing it out of our community, or what?”
Bakke indicated it was “all of that.” And he told the group that 90 percent of the girls “trafficked here” come from Minnesota. And 67 percent of that 90 percent are from out state Minnesota.
VanKeulen said, “Part of the problem is that in Minnesota we teach our kids to be Minnesota nice.” She felt that helped them become vulnerable. “Youth are double susceptible — youth feel it can’t happen to them. We need to try and change that perception of kids.” said Chief Bolt.
“We must educate kids on what to look for,” said Superintendent Deitte. Pastor Drackley indicated the, “Expertise of a victim,” may be helpful in explaining the problem.
“The problem is not going away. We need to educate to let people know we won’t put up with it,” Bakke said.
A full community response to fight the epidemic of sex trafficking is the best response. “That’s how you do it. Create a safe place for kids to be,” Bakke said.
He suggested doing a “sting,” making arrests helps. “If you do a sting, we can bring in people to help with the sting,” he said.
Chief Bolt indicated there has become a “rape culture” in America. He said, “It’s not about sex, it’s about power (dominance) and control.”
Technology advances have helped created an avenue for sex trafficking. Computers, cell phones and other devices make it easy.
Van Keulen indicated an idea was to find out what to look for, then educate students, teachers and parents. She also, “Likes the idea of doing a sting.”
Bakke indicated the best idea was to, “Put the seeds in place, then watch them grow.”
Educated people can make things happen.

 

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