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Panel: Teens, adults forced into sex trade

An 11-year-old girl in Cambodia is told she can come to the United States to improve her life and education. A man tells her family that he will help her do so, and that he will provide safety for the child.

The family agrees to send their daughter away. They file official immigration documents. Everything seems to be legitimate. But the family never sees their daughter again.

Instead, the young girl is forced into prostitution by the man who now controls her life.

This story, along with many others similar to it, were shared during a two-day panel about Human Trafficking at the Assisi Heights Spirituality Center. The panel included a trafficking victim survivor, Bukola Oriola; experts in women's resources and Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem.

Sister Joseen Vogt shared her international experiences from years spent working at a ministry in Cambodia.


"You may say, 'That is over there. What does it have to do with us?' But it is known that many of the procurers come from (the U.S.)," Vogt said. "It is time to break the silence and shift into action."

The general public might not be completely aware of the complexities involved in human trafficking. Instead of a person being kidnapped and forced into prostitution or work, the victims are often brought to the country legally, under false pretenses. Those exploited include adults, too.

Other times, family members will sell young children into prostitution to pay for a drug habit, called domestic trafficking.

The victims are forced into prostitution, through extreme threats or worse. Later, they are often charged as prostitutes, even though they have been forced into the cycle of abuse.

Minnesota is believed to be one of the top 10 states of human trafficking victims, due to the shipping access of Lake Superior and the Canadian border, said Linda Miller, founder of Civil Society, a St. Paul-based advocacy organization for trafficking victims.

Many times, Miller said, victims will be brought through the English colony system, because a visa is easier to secure that way. One victim from Togo was brought through South Africa, Australia, England and Canada before eventually coming over the border to Minnesota.

"About one-third of the victims to Minnesota are coming through the Canadian border," Miller said.

Once the victims are here, the services are sold under the radar of law enforcement, said Suzanne Koepplinger, director of the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Indian Woman's Resource Center.


Koepplinger said Native American women had been lured off reservations, taken onto ships in port in Duluth and beaten and gang-raped by the ships' crews.

More of an enforcement focus needs to be pointed toward the procurers and the abusers, she said.

"Craigslist is the biggest pimp in the industry," Koepplinger said. "You can buy an old refrigerator, you can buy an antique rug or you can buy a 10-year-old."

No cases of human trafficking have been presented to Ostrem's Olmsted County office in his three years of county attorney. But he knows that doesn't mean it's not happening.

"It would be ignorant of us to think that is it not a problem here in Olmsted County and in the city of Rochester," he said.

Ostrem said the cases are extremely difficult to prove in court.

Many times the victims vanish by the time trial comes or they are mentally unwilling to talk any more about the abuse.

"We're here to learn what we can do to help keep our victims on board," Ostrem said.

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