Duluthians rally against human traffickingNearly 200 guests filled the Zeitgeist Arts Café earlier this month to raise awareness of human trafficking in the Twin Ports area. “This is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed locally,” said Erin Aili, founder and director of A Beautiful Rescue, which co-hosted the event with the Hillside Church.
Nearly 200 guests filled the Zeitgeist Arts Café earlier this month to raise awareness of human trafficking in the Twin Ports area.
“This is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed locally,” said Erin Aili, founder and director of A Beautiful Rescue, which co-hosted the event with the Hillside Church.
“It’s so horrible to hear the stories of these women and what is being done to them," she said.
Though there are no firm statistics on human trafficking in Duluth, A Beautiful Rescue and the Duluth Police Department estimate there are more than 500 victims of the sex trade in the Duluth area. Statewide, it’s estimated that between 8,000 and 12,000 women are sold for sex on any given night.
While there are various definitions of human trafficking, Aili told the Budgeteer her group uses one by Duluth’s Program to Aid Victims of Sexual Assault.
On its website PAVSA states: “In simple terms, trafficking is buying and selling of an individual or individuals for sexual exploitation. Trafficking occurs when an individual is made to perform any kind of sexual activities in exchange of money or anything of value — shelter, food, clothes, drugs etc.”
PAVSA goes on to define one form of trafficking as “survival sex” — meaning the exchange of sex “not necessarily for money but shelter, food, and protection” in which a person “might not view herself/himself as a victim of trafficking.”
On its site, A Beautiful Rescue states as its goal “to help victims get out of their oppressive situations and receive aftercare in order to heal and start a new life.”
“It’s such a complex issue, but the reality is that women and girls around the globe are being exploited,” said Ryan Bauers, community initiative and lead pastor at Hillside Church. “It’s more of an issue of justice and equality, and it trickles down to a local level.”
The event featured a silent art auction and appetizers — festive offerings counterpointed by a more serious program that included a video, music and spoken poetry centering on human trafficking in Minnesota in the Teatro Zuccone.
All proceeds will be used by the nonprofit to provide care to victims needing safe housing or services such as living items and counseling, Aili said. Her group will partner with PAVSA, Safe Haven, AICHO and other organizations — alliances made possible through the work of the Duluth Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Formed over a year ago, the task force is made up of the Duluth Police Department, local service organizations and other representatives dedicated to targeting the issue.
“We need an organization that will help the victims directly,” Aili said. “This is a hope of A Beautiful Rescue. In the long term, we want to have permanent housing for victims available in Duluth.”
Aili said she formed A Beautiful Rescue in 2008 after hearing about human trafficking extensively in the news. She learned more about the issue and decided to do something to help the victims.
“I just really wanted to have a little bit more purpose and meaning to my life,” said Aili, who has been involved with Hillside Church for several years. “I’m a person of faith, and I was just praying and asking God, ‘Break my heart with what breaks your heart.’ I just felt compelled to do something about this.”
Bauers said one focus of the anti-trafficking effort was to put aside the stigma against its victims.
“What we are trying to do with this whole issue is to turn around the way these women are portrayed,” he said. “They are victims of violence and exploitation against them.”
While Aili said she was happy with the turnout at the event, she measured its effectiveness in more than just numbers.
“I think it was a huge success because there were a lot of people that were shocked about the issue and other folks who came and were really inspired to continue to do something about it,” she said.
To learn more about A Beautiful Rescue or to get involved in the organization, visit www.abeautifulrescue.com.