Community focuses on helping Duluth sex trafficking victims“Sex trafficking doesn’t just happen in big cities,” Taryn Mastrean of Shared Hope International, an international organization that advocates against sex trafficking, told the Budgeteer. “It is average men buying average American girls.”
The man is wearing a wedding ring. He’s dressed in a suit coat, dress shirt and tie. To his right are the words, “This man wants to rent your daughter. It happens here.”
The “here” referred to is Duluth, and the image graces two billboards — one on Grand Avenue near the bus depot and the other off Interstate 35. Two websites are listed on them: www.sharedhope.org and www.pavsa.org.
“Sex trafficking doesn’t just happen in big cities,” Taryn Mastrean of Shared Hope International, an international organization that advocates against sex trafficking, told the Budgeteer. “It is average men buying average American girls.”
Katy Eagle, the staff attorney for Duluth’s Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, said the intended audience for the billboards is everybody, and the message about sex trafficking is very real — and local.
“Really, it does happen in Duluth,” she said.
The billboard campaign — erected in observance of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month — is sponsored by more than a dozen nonprofit, educational and governmental entities, among them PAVSA, the League of Women Voters, the American Indian Community Housing Organization, the Duluth Police Department, the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office and the city of Duluth, whose mayor, Don Ness, issued a proclamation designating Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Duluth.
He presented it at a recent event at Duluth City Hall, beginning with a prayer in Ojibwe by Babette Sandman. More than 100 people filled the rotunda on the first floor.
“This is especially for those of you who have worked in PAVSA, AICHO or worked in any of the advocacy agencies,” St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin told the crowd. “Anyone who has sat with a young woman who has told you her story and (heard her) ask the question, ‘Can you keep me safe?’”
Rubin said that in the past he has met with young women with those experiences and said he could not honestly tell them he could keep them safe because the law and society viewed them as criminals rather than
“I really wish they could stand where I am. I wish every victim could see you,” he said to the crowd of advocates and allies.
He said every victim would take comfort to see all the people who had come out to support them.
“[It is] something they wished never happened and for which they are embarrassed. They think nobody cares,” he said, adding that Duluth and St. Louis County are working to take a victim-centered approach. “We are going to continue to work our hearts out for justice in this area.”
Ricky Defoe, co-chairman of the Duluth American Indian Commission, said that the United States has a long history of trafficking of Native women that began with the colonization of this country and continues today.
“This is a human rights nightmare on our watch,” he said, describing a landscape of poverty, homelessness and other socio-economic factors that make Native women and girls more vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking. He cited FBI statistics which rank Minnesota 13th in the nation in numbers of trafficking of women.
“As members of the Duluth American Indian Commission and as Native men, we say it is time to break the silence around the trafficking of our women.”
After the event, a Native American round dance was performed as part of a healing ceremony to honor survivors.
There are other community events in Duluth to bring more awareness to the issue, including:
Thursday, Jan. 24 6:30-8:30 p.m.: Premiering of the documentary, “Sex and Money” at Teatro Zuccone
Friday, Jan. 25, 6 to 9 p.m.: “Love Justice: Fighting Sex Trafficking, Standing with Survivors, and Creating Hope” panel at Duluth Vineyard Church, Arrowhead (organized by Love Justice/The Vineyard Church)
Friday, Jan. 25, 6 to 9 p.m.: Extending our Branches, Strengthening our Roots, at Harbor City International School (hosted by Twin Ports Teen Council)
Saturday, Jan. 26, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Citizens in Action, panel presentation at The Coppertop Church
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 6.30 to 8.30 p.m.: “Northland Girls Are Not For Sale: Speaking Out Against Trafficking,” local panel and community discussion, at Harbor City International School.