Sex trafficking is happening everywhere, even locally
By Zach Anderson
It happens here.
That’s what Pope County Deputy Sheriff Bryan Klassen said at a meeting discussing sex trafficking on Thursday, March 9. The Starbuck Study Club GFWC hosted the meeting at the Minnewaska Lutheran Home commons.
Those in attendance saw a video called Not My Life, featuring a girl who had a good life until her sophomore year in public school. Two friends approached her and asked why don’t they all run away together. She thought that was a good idea.
A guy from Oklahoma City picked up the girls, and he was a trafficker.
The girl said the trafficker threatened her, with threats to show pornographic images of her to everyone in her town or hurt her family.
The girls were scared to return to the man without any money. The girl mentioned multiple times she wished she was dead.
“These are real people,” Klassen said. “They survived these events.”
Klassen said that people often associate sex trafficking with movies such as Pretty Woman or Taken as the two extremes.
In reality it is more of a mental/psychological game. 12 to 14 years old is the average age of sex trafficking victims.
Minnesota has some of the best laws in the nation, Klassen stated. Anytime someone over the age of 18 receives a picture or sexual talk with someone 16 or under it is a felony.
The reason sex trafficking happens is because it is lucrative. If a sex trafficker has a victim perform five sex acts each day for $100 each, at seven days per week, that adds up to about $14,000 per week.
The only expenses to the trafficker are $50 per prepaid phone; $5 for phone card and $7 for an online ad. No money goes to the girl.
Compared to selling drugs, it has lower expenses, less risk of being caught, the product can be sold over and over, and the product is easily replaced if it is taken.
Males are the primary perpetrators, with victims typically being female. Klassen noted that law enforcement has seen an increase in male victims.
Traffickers are highly motivated to make lots of money.
Klassen described the four-step process as targeting, tricking, turning and traumatizing to keep the victim working for them.
The targets are young people, some have disabilities, mental illness, are addicted to drugs, runaways, truant, pregnant or with young children.
“Every child feels insecure at some point,” Klassen said. “Any child is vulnerable, whether it be weight or acne.”
Traffickers are targeting victims at schools, parks, bus stops and libraries. The risk of targeting victims in public is if the kid runs there is a higher chance of getting caught.
On the Internet, in particular social media, there are relationship and chat websites. Anyone is reachable from anywhere.
Is when the trafficker is charming and flattering. They treat the victim to nice things, be their boyfriend, and provide basic needs, such as a place to stay and food.
That’s when the trafficker begins to blend affection and control. Once the victim is committed to the relationship, the trafficker presents them with a financial need, such as if they don’t make some money they won’t get to eat that night. Traffickers rely on loyalty and the emotional control that has been built.
Once they turn that first trick, the victim’s self-esteem has been broken.
There are imposing quotas, and the girl has to come back with so much cash or they will be beaten or their friends will be beaten.
Impact of sex exploitation
The impacts of sexual exploitation means there are hundreds to thousands of sexual assaults, which can lead to drug addiction, mental illness, low self-esteem and self-worth, economic instability and poverty. There is also isolation from family and friends and a high fatality rate.
Victims are sold in hotels and apartments, on streets, public transportation and truck stops. Wherever major gatherings take place are also high sex trafficking locations.
“Alexandria, Glenwood, Morris, it’s everywhere,” Klassen said.
He explained how someone wanting to buy a trafficking victim can go online and pick out a girl. “It’s kind of like going to Subway and ordering a sandwich.” The site describes the build, measurements and other details of the girls. Buyers can even leave reviews after the experience.
Between 1.6 million and 2.8 million kids run away from home every year.
Exploiters can be anyone, individuals, teams, families, gangs.
Sex buyers are highly entitled; they commit commercial sexual assaults on highly vulnerable victims.
In 2014, law enforcement arrested 15 individuals for online solicitation of minors; 12 of those individuals traveled to or were residents of Pope County.
In 2015, with a tip from staff at the school, an investigation ensued, and within 24 hours, the suspect met law enforcement rather than the student.
Someplace Safe statistics were shared. The youngest victims that used Someplace Safe were 7 and 9 years old. Seven victims were sold for drugs. Nine were sold to landlords in exchange for rent money.
Some warning signs include young males and females with much older dominating boyfriends, multiple STDS, branding marks, cuts, burns, bruises, tattoos, signs of violence, curfew violations, unexpected personal items (such as jewelry, clothes, money and cell phones). Fear, anxiety and depression are also signs.
There are 38 strip clubs within 150 miles of Benson, and five escort companies service Glenwood according to yellowpages.com Klassen said.
Does it affect Pope County?
There are ads posted targeting the demand in the county. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be ads,” Klassen said.
Since January 2014, there have been 32 cases of exploitation in Pope County, some are real victims and some are law enforcement posing as victims.
“We need to be the eyes and ears for kids,” Klassen said.
In a 2016 survey of the MAS 9-12 grade students, 60 percent said they spend one to four hours online per day, with 35 percent saying they spend more than four hours.
Klassen said students can be victimized while online at school. Kids can be contacted through mobile phones, computers, or game consoles while at home. He said students could even use a phone wifi hotspot at school to avoid school network blocked websites.
Students saw the biggest online threat as bullying and harassment, followed by unwanted sexual approaches, coming across sexual images and using children’s photos and circulating them.
Forty percent of students said they chat with people online they don’t know. Thirty five percent said they have chatted more than 10 times with someone they don’t know, and 3 percent between six to nine times. Fifty one percent said they have chatted one to three times with someone they don’t know.
Ten percent of students admitted they have sent sexual images. Klassen guaranteed that number is higher.
“The American public has been desensitized to sex,” Klassen said. Movies, television ads, books and magazines all glamorize it.
Klassen said that if you send a nude photo that you are actually sending pornography, which could result in criminal charges. If the person is under 14 then it is considered child pornography, a felony-level crime.
Twenty percent of students said they met in person with someone they met online.
“We do a really good job teaching kids what not to divulge,” Klassen said, such as social security numbers. “We forget when we send a picture it can be tracked.” He said that each photo has metadata, which gives information about where the photo was taken. "Using a couple free phone apps, you can translate that data to latitude and longitude of where the photo was taken. You plug that information into Google maps and a perpetrator can find out where the person lives. If you take enough pics they can tell what side of the house their bedroom is on,” Klassen explained.
He also advised against posting when going on vacation. That lets potential criminals know when your house will be empty.
What can parents do?
Pay attention to what kids are doing.
Continue to get the word out to the community that it is going on.
Connect with schools, medical clinics, shelters.
Use resources to stay educated.
Parent monitoring programs:
My Mobile Watchdog
Net Nanny and Webwatcher
Klassen ended the discussion with, “If there is any concern of a juvenile or adult being trafficked contact the police. We take protecting our kids in the county very seriously. They are our next step in stepping forward when we want to take a step back.”