Human trafficking—two words that most suburbanites would rather kick back to an urban curb. After all, it’s a big city problem, right? Tragically, there’s a market for it in cities large and small. Human trafficking occurs all over the world, the United States, Minnesota and in this community. “It could be anybody’s kid,” Eden Prairie Police Department detective Carter Staaf says. The vulnerable girl from the upper class family, the susceptible teen being driven west on Highway 212 and the girl who hopped a bus to a southwestern state—they are all from right here.
In order to shed light on the topic and raise money to support groups that work to eliminate human trafficking and aid its victims, more than 30 local businesses and churches organized Stop the Trafficking 5K walk/run.
The event features a chip-timed course, which is new this year. “It kind of raises the bar in terms of the quality of the run, and we hope to attract another [type] of racer,” Christine Erickson says. As the director of Eden Prairie’s Grace Church’s Children at Risk Ministry, which focuses on at-risk children and youth, she is leading the event’s planning team, along with members from the City of Eden Prairie’s Human Rights and Diversity Commission, Westwood Church’s Justice Team and others.
Organizers hope to exceed 1,000 participants and raise more than $25,000. Erickson says 100 percent of race fees are earmarked for donation. Recipients have included The Link in Prior Lake, Heartland Girls Ranch in Benson, Mission 21 in Rochester, and Cornerstone, which offers prevention tips, education and a hotline.
Participants need not be racers to support the cause. “I think there is something that everyone can do, and that is becoming aware of the issues,” Erickson says.
Understanding the issue can be confusing. Contrary to what some people think, human trafficking is not another phrase for prostitution. “Human trafficking means using fraud, force or coercion for sex or labor,” Erickson says. Staaf further clarifies that prostitution involves a “buyer” and a “seller.” Trafficking involves a third party, who provides transportation, makes profits or promotes the activity.
To locally address the issue, the Eden Prairie Police Department made combatting human trafficking one of its 2016-2017 initiatives by instituting staff training, cultivating investigative resources and building relationships with community partners. Department investigators have trained patrol officers on the often-subtle signs of human trafficking, Staaf says. A simple traffic stop can be an opportunity to save a potential victim, as was the case when an Eden Prairie police officer pulled over a speeding car along Highway 212. With two adult males in the front seat, Staaf says the officer took extra care in questioning the underage female in the backseat, whom the officer discovered had just run away from her Chaska home. (As for one of the adult males in the car, he had a history of human trafficking in North Dakota.)
When another girl’s friends contacted police about her solo plans to take a bus out of state, Eden Prairie police took a closer look at the situation, intercepted her at a transfer hub and interviewed her, discovering, “She was going to be trafficked,” Staaf says. While local police departments are doing what they can to thwart human trafficking, Erickson knows there is a lot more work to do. “This is an issue we can all get around—that selling another human being isn’t okay,” she says.
Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law (passed in 2011) enacted several legal changes, including not defining sexually exploited youth under 18 years old as delinquent. “If youth engage in conduct that relates to being hired, offering to be hired or agreeing to be hired by another individual to engage in sexual conduct, they cannot be charged with a crime for this act,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
“That was a monumental piece of legislation,” Christine Erickson says, noting that those forced into sex or labor trades can receive help, rather than jail time.
Stop the Trafficking 5K
8:30 a.m. June 11, Purgatory Creek Park, 13001 Technology Drive, Eden Prairie.
Registration is available at the website here.
If you or someone you know is being sexually exploited or trafficked, call 911 or Safe Harbor’s Day One Hotline at 866.223.1111.