Freedom Weekend draws primarily female crowd
Organizer seeks partnership with Lakeville
More than 200 people attended on Feb. 16 and 17 the first of what is now expected to be an
annual Freedom Weekend event at three Dakota County churches where attendance was almost double the number expected.
Gripping true accounts of girls, women, men and boys tricked then trapped in the human slavery industry were peppered with action steps and organizations for the predominantly female audience to join or support to help rescue trafficking victims and reduce demand for modern-day slavery in all its forms, which is primarily prostitution.
Event organizer Adri Carlson followed up the event by requesting a partnership with Lakeville officials at the Feb. 19 Lakeville City Council meeting.
“The testimony of survivors that I’ve gotten a chance to meet indicate that truck stops, Burnsville Center, high school campuses, Mall of America are big hot spots for trafficking activity,” she said.
She offered training for police and security officers, hotel staff, students and parents to equip them to recognize the signs of trafficking.
“A parent or teacher might notice a very controlling boyfriend,” Carlson said. “A hotel employee might notice … a steady stream of men going into a hotel room.”
After the meeting, Police Chief Tom Vonhof welcomed the partnership opportunity and
invited Carlson to meet with the department about human trafficking issues.
“He’s a fan of collaboration,” said Carlson, who sent Vonhof a follow-up email the next day.
Two Lakeville officers also attended the Freedom Weekend event that was kicked off at Hosanna! Church by Patrick J. Atkinson, 53, founder of the Institute for Trafficked, Exploited & Missing Persons.
Atkinson said human trafficking victims are everywhere because the demand for laborers, prostitutes and pornography is worldwide.
“Sex is the number one motive for human trafficking,” he said.
Most victims are runaways tricked into trusting a pimp who escalates control through violence and manipulation; he noted males can also be victims.
Atkinson described meeting a father consumed in guilt when an argument over a slight curfew violation escalated to his declaring a “my-way-or-the-highway” ultimatum that resulted in the teen storming out of the house. His son has never been seen again.
The distraught father told Atkinson, “not a minute has gone by that I’ve not wondered where he went.”
Atkinson said the streets always multiply whatever problems runaways face at home.
Within 48 hours of becoming homeless, youths will be propositioned for prostitution, according to Source Annex, a Minneapolis anti-human trafficking organization.
Professional predators are often hired to abduct people with certain features, Atkinson said and shared accounts of young American women disappearing on cruise vacations, some whose pictures eventually appeared on prostitution websites.
He called Midwestern children “prime sources of meat” by traffickers, desired because of this area’s wholesome reputation.
“We’ve dealt with kids who were sexually bought and sold who were 6 and 7 months old,” he said.
He described how they are treated and traded like pieces of meat, forced and threatened, starved, drugged and beaten and raped.
As they get used and abused their value declines as would a dented vehicle with high miles. Many die, their bodies just thrown away.
Cindy Kacher of Lakeville was moved to tears during Atkinson’s presentation.
“The victimization and dehumanization of people breaks my heart,” she said. “That is not how it’s supposed to be.”
Sgt. John Bandemere, investigator with the St. Paul Human Trafficking Task Force, said everyone will see a human trafficking victim in their lifetime, whether in prostitution or labor.
Some males are forced into jobs as roofers, others made to sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door, he said.
Bandemere recounted the 2007 bust of a large human trafficking ring that smuggled women and girls from abroad.
Traffickers took their passports, forced them to work in brothels located all over the Twin Cities where men were charged $40 for 15 minutes.
He shared how a 12-year-old in St. Paul was pimped by her own sister and played a 911 tape of a terrified teenage runaway from Iowa calling from a St. Paul hotel where she had been trafficked by a man she met on Facebook.
The hotel staff knew she was kept in the room, found bloodied sheets but had done nothing.
Bandemere encouraged everyone to be aware and alert authorities if they suspect trafficking is occurring.
Patrick Lambertz with Men Against The Trafficking of Others said his organization is developing the first-ever curriculum for men to help decrease the demand for trafficking.
He said the program will emphasize the need for men to build an authentic support community, and is seeking leaders to launch the program this spring.
He plans to develop global banners to display at sporting events, where trafficking often occurs, that will include names of men who stand against modern-day slavery.
“There are men who oppose human trafficking,” he said. “There are men who stand against victimization.”
Shelly Duce, 46, of Burnsville said the event inspired her get involved with some of the organizations reaching out to trafficking victims, including Mission 21, Source Annex and Not For Sale, and may pursue law enforcement as a career.
“I have always had a strong desire for catching the bad guy,” she said. “This has really pushed me.”
Cheryl Engh of Burnsville said called the Freedom Weekend event ”enlightening.”
“It is shocking. The fact that this is going on right under our noses, at Mall of America and the place we frequent,” she said. “You always think about it happening in other countries.”
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