ALBERT LEA, Minn. – Human sex trafficking affects millions of people across the world and as hard as may be to believe, some of those cases are happening right in our own backyard.
Albert Lea is one community that is unaware of it being a major problem there, but they want to make sure it is not one.
“It’s getting to be more and more of a money maker. More and more people are turning to it. Pimps are now using things like backpages.com; they’re recruiting over the internet on Facebook and other things,” said Dotti Honsey with the Freeborn County Crime Victims Crisis Center.
That is making it a growing problem in towns across the country, and not just the major ones.
“In every city in every state, there is human trafficking going on. It doesn’t, because we’re in a small town, doesn’t mean it’s not here, but it is here,” said Jennifer Lloyd-Benson with the Albert Lea Citizens Against Human Trafficking Task Force.
Those with the Albert Lea Police Department say they do not have much data on this type of crime, and, therefore, do not know if it is a major problem yet.
“I’d love to be able to provide all of our resources into the topic, but if we don’t have the data saying we actually have those concerns here in town, it’s hard to justify allocating all those resources,” said Deputy Director of Police J.D. Carlson with the Albert Lea Police Department.
So they are teaming up with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs. The organization recently conducted dozens of interviews with hospitals, educators, hotels and more to collect data.
“They see it sometimes before we see it. To be able to open up those partnerships and communication, we hope to break through and have more prevention in this topic,” Carlson said.
Even after community leaders hear back next month on the data that was collected, they will continue to work with the DOJ. Carlson said they have connections to other law enforcement and legal organizations that can keep the community safe.
“I’m looking forward to hearing that they sky’s not falling within our community and from there, I’m looking forward to identifying best practices to keep it that way,” Carlson said.
He said because of the growing attention on human trafficking, there are plenty of grants and training programs out there for law enforcement. He said if they learn that it is a problem that needs to be addressed in Albert Lea, they will definitely be taking advantage of those.