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Human trafficking, specifically youth commercial sex trafficking, is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world.

This heinous crime has no barriers to age, region, gender, ethnicity or social class. This can happen to anybody and children and teens are specifically targeted.

When most people think of child trafficking, they often think of this happening in Third World countries, which is a fact, but it is also happening here in our local communities.

In 2016, Minnesota Courts stated that human trafficking cases had reached every county in Minnesota. Since March 2020, the effects of COVID and civil unrest have shifted our focus and child sexual exploitation and trafficking has increased.

In March 2020, with national shelter in place orders, reports of online child sexual abuse and child pornography material, to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), increased 106% with over 1.2 million reports (missingkids.org March 2019).

The National Sexual Assault Hotline saw more calls from minors asking for help than ever in hotline history. 79% of youth reporting they were restricted from school and “sheltered in place” with the perpetrator (rainn.org 2019).

It’s time for us to shift some of our focus back to our kids, learn the truth about child sexual exploitation and trafficking, and take action! Accurate information leads to effective solutions.

TRUTH

The most common myth is that children and teens are kidnapped into trafficking. Truth is, fewer than 10% of trafficking cases involve kidnapping (Polaris.org 2020).

Trafficked and exploited youth are not always missing; they are sitting in school classrooms, attending church youth group, playing sports, and still in the community.

In January 2020, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released the findings of the 2019 Minnesota High School survey revealing that 5,000 students, still attending school, reported they were victims of at least one form of sex trafficking.

The study also revealed, what our work on the frontlines already knew, that boys and girls were equally reporting being impacted by this crime.

The No. 1 pathway into sexual exploitation and trafficking crimes for children and teens is through relationships. Traffickers and predators use grooming tactics to identify and meet the youth’s needs, build trust, and create an emotional bond to gain control and secrecy.

Traffickers and predators can begin as strangers, gang, occult or family members, including biological parents. Online child sex predators use social media, chat apps, and gaming to contact youth and build relationships.

Youth are online now more than ever with stay at home mandates, and so are predators, which is why we need to take effective action now!

PREVENTION IS KEY

Although the MDH and the research has indicated that youth prevention education is vital to protecting youth, prevention efforts continue to be the least funded and least implemented strategies in our communities.

Prevention to me is not just critical, it’s personal. As a teenager I experienced both physical and sexual abuse that led to me almost being trafficked at the age of 17. I was a teenage girl who had lost her identity, value and worth.

Although I was from a loving two-parent family in the suburbs, childhood abuse created the emotional vulnerabilities that predators target.

However, it is because of these experiences that I am passionate about reaching youth in a model of prevention that brings a message of personal value, hope for the future, builds life skills, and empowers them as this generation’s leaders! That is what I get to do as the director of Outreach and Missions, at A.C.T. United in Chaska.

A.C.T. United is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Carver County that “unites communities together in awareness, prayer, and prevention to end the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children and teens.”

TAKE ACTION

Join us in February for our 7th annual Community Awareness to Action Conference: “Behind the Veil.” Three one-hour virtual sessions throughout the week of Feb 24-27.

Hear from leaders in human trafficking investigations, restorative counseling, Minnesota law and policy legislation, and survivors working to dismantle systems of youth sex trafficking in Minnesota.

For session topics, speaker bios, and to register go to our website at www.actunited.org/events. Registration is free.

United we win!

Saysha Boike is A.C.T. United director of Missions and Outreach.

Community Editor

Mark Olson, the Chaska and Chanhassen community editor who has worked in Carver County for 20 years, makes any excuse to write about local history. In his spare time, Mark enjoys perusing old books, watching blockbusters and taking Midwest road trips.

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