Local Forum Discusses Human Trafficking In Northern Minnesota
Last night, Bemidji High School hosted a panel to discuss how to stop human trafficking in our community. Men and women from all over the area joined the discussion that most people wouldn’t want to think about.
“We do get clients, but numbers-wise, it’s hard to pinpoint,” says Allison Burkman, the Northwest Regional Navigator of Support Within Reach, a sexual violence resource center.
Three panelists from different help agencies led the talk.
“That included Support Within Reach, and myself as Safe Harbor Northwest Region Navigator. It’s also included Evergreen Youth And Family Services, North Homes Youth and Family Services and the Bemidji Police Department,” says Burkman.
The event started with a video how teens, averaging in ages from 12 to 14 but sometimes even younger, get exploited. They talked about how in this day and age, most traffickers are reaching out to them on social media. There was also discussion about the people known as buyers who are the ones paying for the sexual acts. They usually are professional men between mid-thirties and fifties.
“We have seen it locally in our hotels. We’ve done two sex trafficking [stings] that have developed from reactive investigations at the hotels,” says Bemidji Police Detective Heather Holden.
Panelists say the best thing the community can do is to educate themselves about the signs of an exploited teen and be alert.
“Looking for things such as older and younger people together in the hotels that don’t fit in the familial type setting, and then that type of controlling behavior a lot of the times and monitoring parties that may be trafficked. Paying attention to their cell phone and if they have multiple cellphones,” says Det. Holden.
Burkman adds, “You don’t necessarily need to approach them or put yourself in a situation, but I really believe if you see something out of the ordinary, it doesn’t hurt to say something to somebody.”
Another way the panelists agree the community can help out is by contacting legislators about adding more penalties for traffickers and buyers.