by Eric Hagen
A former Blaine resident and current St. Cloud State University student will be joining five others in running 230.2 miles across Minnesota June 23 to July 5 to raise awareness of the problem of forced-labor and sex trafficking.
Katelyn Rabago said she knew “little to none” about human trafficking prior to hearing about it from RunFree representatives organizing the run from Watertown, S.D., to Stillwater.
Rabago was not an avid runner when she decided to join this run across Minnesota. The first time she timed herself running the mile at the start of her training in October 2012, she came in at 15 minutes. Two months later, she got her mile time down to eight minutes. Her best mile time is seven minutes, 12 seconds.
When Rabago heard the statistics and a story from one woman from southeast Asia who was sold into sex trafficking in Europe for 18 years, she could not ignore the injustices.
“It breaks my heart. I have broken down in tears. It’s hard to put it into perspective for other people,” Rabago said. “Imagine the most beautiful, educated and kind woman stolen, drugged, beaten and raped for 18 years and then let free and imagine how they feel.”
The numbers can be hard to track. Lauren Ryan, program manager for anti-trafficking services for the International Institute of Minnesota, said the International Labor Organization estimates there are 20.9 million victims of sex and human trafficking throughout the world.
RunFree estimates there are 27 million adults and 13 million children worldwide that are victims of human trafficking and approximately 75 to 80 percent of them are sold into sexual slavery and 80 percent are under the age of 24. Some are even as young as six years old. About 30,000 die each year from abuse, disease, torture and neglect.
Part of the difficulty in identifying victims is that prostitution is illegal in some countries, including the U.S., so the women might not always be initially identified as sex slaves but thought of as prostitutes.
Lt. Bryon Fuerst of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office is heading up a new human trafficking task force between the sheriff’s office and local police departments throughout the county to train officers how to look for and investigate this problem. He said police must interview prostitutes they arrest to determine if they were coerced and who did it.
Ryan said those victimized the most are runaway youth. Fuerst said the task force will work closely with school resource officers and homeless resource contacts inside schools and in the community, and rely on tips to learn about potential victims and perpetrators.
The six runners are coordinating with Venture Projects and RunFree to raise money to combat human trafficking in the southeast Asian countries of Burma and Thailand. Venture Expeditions is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that organizes adventure-driven expeditions to raise awareness and funds for a variety of humanitarian causes.
The money will specifically go to The Just+Hope Campaign and Eden Women’s Ministry.
Venture Expeditions has shipped a million meals to people along the Burma-Thailand border who have been affected by the decades-long Burma Civil War.
Rabago said educating people over there about the dangers of human trafficking and how wrong it is must also continue to happen. Some fathers who need the money sell their daughters, so one way to shut down these camps is to give money to the family so they do not feel forced to sell their daughters to sex traffickers.
Not an avid runner
Rabago said endurance, and not time, is the key when running an average of 17.7 miles over 13 days; two of those days will be 26-mile runs. The farthest she has run without taking a break is 20 miles.
She cut out sugar and a lot of fatty foods to give herself more energy, but a secret she learned from a friend was running long distances is mostly about having the right mind-set and pushing yourself even when you become exhausted.
“It’s a spiritual battle, emotional battle and physical battle you have to overcome,” she said.
Rabago lived in Blaine from third grade through graduation. She earned her high school diploma two years early by the spring of 2009, but walked with her graduating class in 2011.
She grew up in a Christian home, but her dedication to her faith became stronger when she went to college, and she has been finding inspiration from Bible versus as she trains.
“I feel like throughout my whole life, I’ve had so many trials and so many situations where I’ve been running and have fallen, but God has always been there to tell me to get up and finish the race,” she said on her first video blog posted Nov. 20, 2012.
To find out more information or to donate, visit www.ventureexpeditions.org/page/run-free.
Eric Hagen is at