Recognizing human trafficking: Panel will examine changing nature of the sex trade
If you saw a semi-truck parked on the off-ramp of the interstate and there was a car parked behind or in front of it, what would you think?
A. That there was something mechanically wrong with either vehicle.
B. That it was a relative stopping for a quick visit with the driver of the semi.
C. That the driver of the vehicle is a pimp and has brought a female to the truck driver for "services."
Most people would probably choose letter A, but surprisingly, according to Capt. Scott Kent with the Alexandria Police Department, the answer on more occasions than people realize is C.
Human sex trafficking is not only a nationwide issue, but also a state and Douglas County issue.
According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, there are more than 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally and in 2015, Minnesota had the third-highest number of human trafficking cases in the nation.
Kent said the public needs to be aware of situations that may seem out of the ordinary and be aware of their surroundings.
"If we don't see someone walking the streets like in the movies, we don't think it (sex trafficking) is a problem," he said. "Truck stops, rest areas, on- and off-ramps, it is happening. People need to change their perspectives. Be suspicious. Ask questions."
Kent, along with four others, will be part of a panel at an event organized by Forever Reaching to Eliminate Exploitation in Alexandria — FREE Alexandria. The organization is committed to ending human trafficking and child exploitation through education and prevention.
"Human Trafficking: What can we do about it?" will take place Monday, Jan. 22, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the Alexandria Technical and Community College auditorium, room 743 A and B. There will light refreshments and a social time beginning at 6 p.m.
Josh Waltzing, one of the event organizers, said it is free and open to the public. He said the target audience is anyone who deals with children ages 12-14, including parents, coaches, counselors, youth pastors and others.
Waltzing, who formed FREE Alexandria, said educating, talking about and dealing with human trafficking became a passion of his when a situation "hit a little too close to home."
In August 2016, an Alexandria man, after finding out that he was being arrested for solicitation of a minor, charged Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents with a knife and was shot and killed. The incident, said Waltzing, occurred across the street from the school his son attended.
"After that, I knew I needed to do something," said Waltzing.
The upcoming event, which is sponsored by the Inclusion Network, Alexandria Community and Technical College and its foundation, will include a panel of five people who deal with human trafficking on a regular basis — Kent, Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson, Pope County Deputy Bryan Klassen, Regional Youth Educator for Someplace Safe Jeanine Thompson, and Becki Jordan, who is the Safe Harbor regional navigator for human trafficking for the Minnesota Department of Health.
The event, said Waltzing, will discuss what human trafficking looks like, what people can do about it, what the role of law enforcement is and how to stop the demand, among other topics.
Waltzing agrees with Kent that a change is needed in the perception of what human and sex trafficking looks like.
"We need to change the culture of Alexandria and teach the community what trafficking looks like and what it looks like to be recruited," said Waltzing. "We need to change the culture so much that we eliminate the demand. We need to teach young boys and men how to treat women and men with respect. We need to have conversations about sex trafficking like we do about the dangers of drugs and alcohol."
For more information, visit FREE Alexandria's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FREEAlexandriaMN/.