How you can reduce sex trafficking

By Stephanie Dickrell, sdickrell@stcloudtimes.com

Sex trafficking seems like a problem that is impossible to solve. It has, after all, been around almost as long as humans.

But advocates say there is plenty the average person can do to reduce demand for prostitution, reduce violence against women and prevent it from happening in the first place.

Chuck Derry, co-founder of the Gender Violence Institute in Clearwater and the Minnesota Men’s Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence, Rebecca Kotz, trafficking services coordinator at the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center and Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall have advice.

Derry breaks it down into three steps.

  1. Stop paying for sex. Derry says men need to understand that if they’re buying sex, they’re supporting a situation where violence is routine: strangulation, burning, pistol whipping, kicking, slamming heads into walls.
  2. Listen and get educated: Listen to the women in your life and then educate yourself about sexual violence.
  3. Talk: Spread the word. Put your knowledge into action. Call out everyday sexism.

If you see something, say something.

Call 911 if you see anything that looks suspicious, Kendall said.

She equated the signs of sex trafficking with those of drug dealing: lots of short-term traffic by different vehicles at an address.

Often, investigations that uncover sex trafficking start as investigations into other crimes such as robbery, drug-dealing and shootings. Pimps often target runaways who are vulnerable and need a place to stay.

Stop using porn.

"I encourage men to stop using porn for six months and see how it impacts how they view women, women they’re involved in relationships with, women in the street,” Derry said. “See how your head changes, how your attitude towards women changes. Because it does change.”

Use your time and money.

The Mending Project offers free and reduced-cost goods and services for survivors, like housing and home repair. Shops offering tires can help the woman whose tires are continually slashed to prevent her from leaving.

“The solution is men standing with women to say this has to end," Derry said.

Spread the word.

People can use their influence with family and friends, in workplaces, in public places and in faith communities.

“This is not just a problem within one sector of society. It’s a problem across all sectors of society,” Derry said.

“They can donate, but most important, they can spread the world to their sons, to their circles,” said Jeremiah Witt, who runs the john school for Breaking Free in St. Paul.

He hopes more men will get involved in the work of stopping and preventing trafficking.

“It will take a lot of men to get side by side to have it be more effective. We need guys that want to get in and help and get their hands dirty,” Witt said.

Don't tolerate objectifying comments

Talk about gender equity. Ignoring or not laughing at a sexist joke isn’t enough.

“Men have to speak up. It’s the same with racism ... If you don’t say anything, then it’s consent. You have to speak. There is no neutral position,” Derry said.

Make changes on the field.

Men as Peacemakers has a program called Coaching for Change. The training provides examples of how to recognize and address issues of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, teen dating violence and domestic violence.

The Minnesota State High School League now mandates the training.

“Coaches are some of the strongest influences on children’s lives. Through the power of sports to shape culture, promote gender equity, we will make some headway,” Derry said.

Practice what you preach.

“For parents, the important thing is to give equal value to their sons and their daughters. Be really conscious about gender equity, who they hold up as heroes in culture, who do they speak of with pride,” Derry said. Talk about female athletes, actors, musicians and politicians, as well as males.

As you watch TV or play a video game, talk about how the girls and boys are being represented.

As you’re driving, talk about the lyrics of a favorite song on the radio. Ask open-ended questions. You’re helping your child to think critically about their world.

Value your daughters for more than their looks and tell them.

Talk to your daughters about how their value is more than how they look or can please others.

“Their value is well beyond that, who they are as human beings ... what they think, how they feel,” Derry said.

"What we need to remember is that every interaction with a child is developing a memory loop ... as a lesson for their life," said Peggy La Due, executive director of the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center.

Traffickers target women and girls who are vulnerable - physically, emotionally, economically or intellectually - because they're easier to coerce and persuade. A major risk factor for becoming trafficked is childhood sexual abuse and instability in their early lives.

“No one is exempt. This could happen to anyone at any given time if you are at your weakest point," said Joy Friedman, who was trafficked for two decades. When she was a teenager, she was sexually assaulted, before entering prostitution.

“My self-esteem was shot. I didn’t value myself in any kind of way,” Friedman said. “My life was seeking to fit in and belong, and wanting to be part of a family.”

Use your influence.

Use your influence to change minds in businesses, in civic groups, hunting parties, sports teams and faith communities.

“The main thing – this is really critical – is that men beginning to stand up with women,” Derry said. “... There is no way that this many men could be sexually exploiting women, using and abusing women if the rest of them ... stood up. Men rely on our silence to be able to do that.”

Donate to programs that support survivors of trafficking and sexual assault.

The Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center doesn't get a lot of donations from the public. Kotz thinks donating makes people uncomfortable or in denial that happening here.

Money is always welcome. They'll also take other donations:

Become a volunteer advocate.

The Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center trains volunteers to support women who have experienced sexual violence and to answer a 24/7 crisis line.

Take the class to know how to help people who have experienced sexual violence.

With one in three women experiencing it in their lifetime, you're sure to encounter it.

"Even if you're not volunteering on the crisis line, you're going to encounter someone that's been a victim of sexual violence, whether you know it or not," Kotz said.

Times reporters Jenny Berg and David Unze contributed to this report.

Follow Stephanie Dickrell on Twitter at @SCTimesSteph, like her on Facebook, call her at 255-8749 or find more stories at sctimes.com/sdickrell.

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