Community combats human trafficking

Children who are pulled into sex trafficking often experience 30 or more sexual assaults per day. On average, this goes on for two weeks and starts when they are 12-14 years old.

A panel of experts at the Building a Safe Community event included, from left to right, Cynthia Gill, a licensed family therapist; Donna McDonald, violence prevention coordinator for the Anoka County Community Health Department; Karrie Schaaf, Anoka-Hennepin’s McKinney Vento District Homeless Liaison; Patty Wetterling, co-founder of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center and director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program; Minneapolis Police Department Sgt. Grant Snyder; Steve Fitzhugh, a motivational speaker and former Denver Broncos player; and Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart. Photo by Olivia Koester

A panel of experts at the Building a Safe Community event included, from left to right, Cynthia Gill, a licensed family therapist; Donna McDonald, violence prevention coordinator for the Anoka County Community Health Department; Karrie Schaaf, Anoka-Hennepin’s McKinney Vento District Homeless Liaison; Patty Wetterling, co-founder of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center and director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program; Minneapolis Police Department Sgt. Grant Snyder; Steve Fitzhugh, a motivational speaker and former Denver Broncos player; and Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart. Photo by Olivia Koester

It’s happening right here in Minnesota. Right here in Anoka County.

HOPE+RESQ, a nonprofit out of Blaine dedicated to ending human trafficking; the Minnesota Department of Health; and Spring Lake Park School District 16 presented “Building a Safe Community” May 4.

The event brought resources and speakers to Spring Lake Park High School to educate parents and community members about human trafficking, the second largest elicit enterprise, behind narcotics.

Approximately 50 turned out to hear the day’s keynote speakers: Steve Fitzhugh, a former Denver Broncos player and motivational speaker; Patty Wetterling, co-founder of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center out of St. Paul and director of sexual violence prevention with the Minnesota Department of Health; and Minneapolis Police Department Sgt. Grant Snyder.

“The first line of defense is with our parents,” Fitzhugh said. It’s their job to celebrate their children each and every day.

If kids aren’t getting enough attention from their parents, they will seek it elsewhere, and predators know how to look for children who will be receptive to affection, bribery and other common lures, he said.

Fitzhugh spent a few minutes addressing the Internet and its dangers. He urged parents to confine Internet use to a common area of the home.

There are lots of bad messages out there, but parents can’t shelter kids from those messages – there are too many, Fitzhugh said. What parents can do is have conversations with their children about those messages.

Wetterling spoke briefly about the time after her son Jacob’s kidnapping in 1989.

She moved quickly to things parents can do to lessen the chance their children will become a predator’s target. Teaching kids the names of their body parts will help fend of predators, she said.

Having five trusted adults will ensure kids always have someone to whom they can turn. She urged members of the audience to become that trusted adult for other kids. “They need to know that they have a safety net,” Wetterling said.

Finally, Snyder spoke about his work as head of the crimes against children unit and juvenile trafficking team in Minneapolis.

“My objectives [today] are to increase your outrage and increase your passion,” he said.

Community members were shaking their heads when he played an audio recording of a pimp, a man currently incarcerated for prostituting children, making arrangements with an upper-middle class man from Eagan to have sex with a girl who is the same age as the man’s daughter, 15.

“I don’t care about the age – I care about the look,” the man told the pimp.

Snyder classified the demand side of the problem as “a problem with male behavior,” which prompted a series of questions for the Q&A panel.

The Q&A panel consisted of the three keynote speakers; Karrie Schaaf, Anoka-Hennepin’s McKinney Vento District Homeless Liaison; Cynthia Gill, a licensed family therapist; Donna McDonald, violence prevention coordinator for the Anoka County Community Health Department; and Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.

One man in the audience was upset by Snyder’s assertion that males are the only ones molesting children, as he was molested by seven of his nine female babysitters as a child.

Others texted in questions about young boys being molested.

Statistically, more girls are victims of human trafficking, but boys don’t often self-report, Wetterling said.

North Metro TV filmed the event, and it will be aired in the coming months.

The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and Anoka-Hennepin District 11 will put on their own forum about human trafficking May 29 from 6-7:30 p.m. at Coon Rapids High School.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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