People can get informed at Freedom Weekend
Before being sold by the hour, they are coerced or kidnapped, drugged and beaten then “seasoned” by gang-rape and marketed online as “willing to do anything” in seedy hotel rooms across the nation, state and in Dakota County.
Some sex trafficking victims are not old enough to drive, but are used by five, 10 or even 20 men daily, their bodies sold by traffickers they believe love them or stay with because they are paralyzed by fear and threats.
“The youngest I’ve ever seen was 12 years old,” said Sgt. John Bandemer, investigator with the St. Paul Police Department’s human trafficking unit who will speak at Freedom Weekend, Feb. 16-17 in Dakota County.
Sponsored by three local churches — Hosanna! in Lakeville, International Outreach in Burnsville and Community of Hope in Rosemount — organizers hope the shocking evil that defines human trafficking in all its forms will strengthen a growing local abolitionist movement.
“This is, I think, the crisis of our generation,” said Christie Schultz of Burnsville, a core member of the Kingdom Justice group at Hosanna focused on human trafficking. “There are issues that every generation has to face — if you were growing up at this time, what did you do? — and I think this is ours. There are children being sold to be raped several times a day. For me, that’s a crisis worth rising up and facing.”
Bandemer said human sex trafficking is proliferating locally, having moved from the streets to computers with explicit ads on sites like backpage.com.
Some solicitations feature photos of scantily-clad females they claim are at least 18, but use terms like “sugar daddy” and “playmate” to indicate they are younger.
Adri Carlson, an Eagan resident and leader of the Hosanna trafficking justice group, said some “johns” prefer children; others seek the disabled.
The Department of Justice reports the average age most girls get involved in prostitution is 14 and some can be as young as 9; most are abuse victims before they are prostituted.
Of the 300,000 American children involved in prostitution, most are teen girls, often runaways or “throwaways,” according to Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Within 48 hours of being homeless, youths will be propositioned, Carlson said.
She sought leadership in the ministry after witnessing human trafficking when teaching English in South Korea for a year.
“In Cambodia and poor countries like that, it’s considered like winning the jackpot if you have a girl, because you can sell her and get money from the traffickers,” Carlson said.
She said she was horrified to find out sex and labor trafficking was also flourishing at home.
“Minnesota is a big sourcing state as well as a transporter through state,” Carlson said.
Source Annex, a Minneapolis anti-trafficking organization, found that 10 percent of the teens arrested for prostitution in Las Vegas are from Minnesota.
Carlson said while most victims are enticed by “boyfriends” who coerce them with proclamations of love before drugging and selling them.
“Usually, they meet somebody that is attractive and treats them nice,” said Andy Ronchak, a member of the Hosanna anti-trafficking group. “They run away or are looking for a more exciting lifestyle. Then, all of the sudden they are addicted to drugs and forced into prostitution-type lifestyle.”
Carlson said some high school girls are selling themselves to make money without their parents’ knowledge.
“Here, we have quite an epidemic of high schoolers thinking it’s cool, popular and fun to go out during class and make some money,” Carlson said.
Justine Alex Reisdorf was 19 in 2007 when charged with running a prostitution ring of minor high school girls out of the Burnsville motel where she worked, advertising three “party girls” on Craigslist.
She pleaded guilty to use of an interstate facility to promote prostitution; charges of sex trafficking of a minor were dropped.
Reisdorf, now 24, was again arrested in Sherburne County in November for probation violations and was held in the Renville County Jail until she was released Jan. 31. (See update below.)
Burnsville Police Chief Eric Gieseke said some officers have received training regarding human trafficking, but have not had situations of teenagers in prostitution recently.
“We’re going to continue to train about it and learn about it as an agency,” he said.
The U.S. Justice Department rates Minneapolis-St. Paul 13th in the nation for sex trafficking, and victims are often transported through the trucking industry, prostituted at truck stops and in motels, according to the nonprofit organization Truckers against Human Trafficking.
Ryan Hanson, 32 of Eagan, owns a cell phone businesses in the Burnsville Center and at a truck stop south of the Twin Cities where he said truckers openly talk about the cost for bringing kidnapped women or girls to live in their trucks.
“They’re to provide services to the person that brought them here,” Hanson said. “Many are what I would consider sex slaves.”
Ashley Stevens, a Dakota County social worker, said she learned of sex trafficking when working with local victims.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that this horrific crime is happening in our own communities,” Stevens said.
Bandemer, the St. Paul officer, said a trafficker was stopped in Lakeville this summer and had minors in his car that had been prostituted earlier that day.
Lakeville Police Chief Tom Vonhof said his department conducted undercover prostitution investigations at the County Road 70/I-35 truck stop about seven years ago and made several arrests.
Following a recent prostitution complaint there, he said investigators conduced surveillance for several weeks but did not see any illegal activity.
The city passed an ordinance last fall requiring massage therapy centers to be licensed after a man reported being offered sex following a massage service at Pro Massage, formerly located in the Lakeville Crossings mall.
Vonhof said it is great that the community is raising awareness of human trafficking.
“Most people don’t realize it’s going on,” Vonhof said, adding parents should be diligent to monitor their children’s online and cell phone activity to keep them from falling victim.
Freedom Weekend begins at Hosanna Church, 9600 163rd St. W., Lakeville, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, where trafficking experts will inform and discuss the horrors of human trafficking around the world and locally.
International Out Reach Church, located on the north side of Destiny Christian Church at 12119 16th Ave. S., Burnsville, will present a day in the life of a trafficking victim from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 17.
The weekend wraps up at Community of Hope Church, 14401 Biscayne Ave. W., Rosemount, from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 17 with a showing of “Nefarious, Merchant of Souls,” a documentary that exposes the inside world of sex slavery, including testimony from survivors and a former sex trafficker.
Editor’s note: See also Laura Adelmann’s companion stories to this article, “Local trafficking survivors help others.”
Update: Justine Alex Reisdorf left a residential re-entry center without permission Sept. 13, 2012 and on Sept. 14, 2012 tested positive for controlled substances, violations of her parole. She was sentenced to four months in jail by U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz in November, and was released from Renville County jail Thurs., Jan. 31, according to federal court records.