VARP interns advocate against sex trafficking

Maria Ly
Staff Writer

The Violence Awareness Response Program held an informative session led by their interns about ending sex trafficking in part of their sexual assault awareness month. 

Led by interns Erin Kotten and McKenzie Erickson, the two talked about what sex trafficking is, noticing the red flags of sex trafficking, case studies, statistics, and safety tips. 

According to the presentation, sex trafficking is, “A form of modern day slavery. Involves the use of force, fraud, and control on another person for engaging in commercial sex acts.” 

The two also engaged with the audience as they opened the floor for discussion, as audience members talked about sex trafficking vs. sex work. 

Sex trafficking is involuntary, no option of entry or exit, no profits, forced and coerced, and affects both children and adults. Sex work on the other hand is voluntary, done by choice, has an option to exit, control over profits, consensual, and done among adults.

Perpetrators are most often local male individuals who try to create a relationship to the victim who are typically vulnerable youth. About 40 percent of sex trafficking cases involve minors. Perpetrators who are caught can face up to 20 years for trafficking a minor. 

Not all perpetrators are male however, as shown by the story of Rebecca Bender, a single mom, who developed a relationship with a man pretending to be her boyfriend, then invited her to move in with him in another state. Once there, pressured her into trafficking to get the “moving money back” then threatened to hurt her and her child when she didn’t comply. 

Due to the high profit and low risk because of lack of law enforcement, lack of awareness, and lack of resources for victims, sex trafficking has continued to thrive. 

According to National Statistics in 2018, there were over 3,719 reported cases. About 35-45 of those cases have been reported in Minnesota alone. 

If you notice an intimate partner or employer coming on strongly, having unclear terms, has a lack of information about your rights, use isolation, constantly checks in, asks you to do tasks outside of your comfort zone, displays signs of control, jealousy, or lashes out/delivers punishment, this may be a red flag of a perpetrator. 

An indicator of a victim is poor mental health, abnormal behavior, poor physical health, or lack of control. Reasons victims may not leave are because ongoing threat of abuse, torture, and rape, causes or exploits a pregnancy, causes or exploits a chemical addiction, pressure and guilt by the trafficker, isolation and exploitation of feelings of worthlessness, blackmail, money, threat of prosecution or deportation, withholding of documents, etc. 

Erickson stated, “The stigma behind sex trafficking vs. sex work. A lot of times victims are blamed, they don’t understand why they can’t just walk away and leave, and we just wanted to have this event to educate that not everyone is choosing to do so.”

Safety tips range from informing a trusted relative or friend, trusting your judgement, being cautious when providing information such as location, using secure internet searching browsers, delete search history, block unknown or suspicious usernames, enable privacy setting, etc. 

Resources to get help or more information concerning sex trafficking is the University Security, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Women’s Center, VARP, LGBT Center, Counseling Center, CADA, The Reach, etc. 

Erickson stated, “Be open minded and learn about the opportunities here on campus within the women’s center, VARP, LGBT Center, because there’s a lot of topics and information that we are unable to give so non-university things such as REACH or CADA can provide more information. So just get involved through peers and get the word out.”

Header photo courtesy of Flickr.

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