ALBERT LEA, Minn. – You may not even be aware it’s happening, but by bringing awareness of human trafficking, local officials hope students can better protect against these acts of violence.
It’s a life we may read about online or watch on television, but the reality is sex trafficking happens all around us.
It’s why Riverland Community College students like Cassandra Roberts are making the effort to learn more about an epidemic sweeping the country.
“Most of us we don’t know too much about this subject about sex trafficking and how the women are forced to do it and the dangers to them. I think they said that the youngest age was 13. That’s just crazy for me to think of,” said Roberts.
13 years old, that’s the average age of a sex slave in Minnesota and while these students are much older, they’re learning how easy it can be, to become a victim.
“Prostitution is a money making organization. It is a criminal activity and so I want them to know that these girls are not just doing it because they believe it is their choice but it’s because they’re being forced to do this,” said Jennifer Lloyd-Benson, Volunteer with the Albert Lea Citizens Against Human Trafficking.
The Safe Harbor Act was signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton back in 2011 and is set to take effect this August.
The language of the law identifies prostituted people under the age of 18 as victims of sexual exploitation rather then criminals.
A distinction Jennifer says is important in changing the perceptions of those effected.
“I am not an expert those that are being traffic are the expert to hear them they do have a voice and we do need to hear the voice of those that have survived,” said Lloyd-Benson.
The Safe Harbor Law also creates a victim centered service model around the state. It’s done so that teens can get the help they need.
The money for those support services is made by increasing fines on “johns”, or those who are arrested for buying sex.
Only 16 percent of rapes are reported to the police each year and only 12 percent are reported within the first 24 hours.
Investigators say this means friends, family and even co-workers are just as important in helping to bring justice for these victims.
For more information or to speak to someone about being a victim yourself, you can contact Crime Victim’s Crisis Center at (507)-377-5460 or (507-377-2223.