There are warning signs when a teen is at risk of being trafficked.
Professionals who have worked with trafficking victims will present on prevention tips during Trafficking Justice’s Freedom Weekend, which includes an event at the Shoreview Community Center at 7 p.m. May 3.
The Shoreview event is hosted by Emmanuel Covenant Church. The church, which meets at the community center on Sundays, had a sermon series on trafficking last fall, said Bekah Backman, director of outreach. She said church members were in shock and disbelief that trafficking happens in their own communities. “It really accentuates the need for education around the issue,” Backman said.
One of the event’s speakers, Jessica Bartholomew of ACT United, spoke at the church last fall. She is a former police officer and will share practical advice on how adults can speak with their children about how exploitation and sex trafficking happen. Also speaking will be Carter Staaf, an Eden Prairie police detective. He will give a firsthand account of what trafficking looks like and share with parents how they can prevent their children from becoming a victim.
Forty-one percent of sex trafficking victims are under age 18, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study conducted between 2008 and 2010.
The Shoreview event is just one of several on trafficking issues that will be held throughout the Twin Cities over the weekend. The informational conference on sex trafficking prevention and volunteerism has been running for about five years in the spring, said Keith Lokkesmoe, Trafficking Justice executive director. The organization began in 2011 in a church small group in Lakeville, Lokkesmoe said. He became executive director 3 1/2 years ago. The entire 12-member staff is all volunteers. He is also the executive pastor at Sojourn Campus Church in Minneapolis.
The purpose of the organization is to inspire, equip and mobilize people to prevent sexual exploitation and trafficking, Lokkesmoe said. It also mobilizes volunteers for organizations that do restoration work with victims of trafficking.
White Bear Lake resident Rita Torborg is the volunteer treasurer at Trafficking Justice. She has been volunteering with the organization since she retired over a year ago.
“I think it is one of the most ugly scourges our society has, so I thought I would join the fight,” Torborg said. The organization has a sex trafficking 101 class for those interested in learning more about the issue and becoming a volunteer.
Several topics regarding trafficking will be discussed at other events throughout the Twin Cities Metro during Freedom Weekend May 3-5. The conference is free, and registration is not required except for two meal events Friday morning and Saturday lunch. Backman will speak how to mobilize your church to fight trafficking at the prayer breakfast Friday morning. For more information, visit traffickingjustice.com.
Warning signs that someone may be trafficked:
• Signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
• Unexplained absences from class
• Less appropriately dressed than before
• Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
• Sexualized behavior
• Overly tired in class
• Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
• Brags about making or having lots of money
• New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
• Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
• Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
• Shows signs of gang affiliation