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Lake County Residents Join Battle Against Sex Trafficking

Updated: 01/21/2014 10:58 PM
Created: 01/21/2014 9:55 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

Sex trafficking can happen in any community, so a handful of Lake County residents started a task force to prevent the problem there. Over 30 people turned out to a forum on Tuesday night to learn more about the issue.

Founded less than a year ago the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force has already brought awareness to their rural community. Co-founder Sue Hilliard hopes that will combat the problem before it can take root in Lake County.

“We absolutely do not want sex trafficking here in Lake County. We have...we call it God's country here and we want to keep it that way,” Hilliard said.

She said it can be hard to envision the disturbing problem, but residents need to know what to look for because a teenage girl from Lake County was recently trafficked to the Twin Cities.

“She was a runaway, which is typical of victims. A runaway, she was in the Twin Cities, got picked up by a perpetrator and was trafficked,” Hilliard said.

Two Harbors Police Officer Ken Anderson is also part of the task force. He said perpetrators often tempt the teenage victims with alcohol or drugs. Anderson said that leads victims becoming entangled in the sex trade.

No cases have been investigated in Two Harbors, but Anderson said sex trafficking can creep into communities.

“We have worked with several young victims of crimes that border this problem, and the highway runs from Duluth to Two Harbors so I'm sure it's here,” Anderson said.

He was thankful to see so many people turning out to learn more. He wants parents to be aware of what can happen to vulnerable teens. Anderson also wants anyone victimized to know they can turn to police to get out of a bad situation.

“We want them to feel comfortable enough where they can come to law enforcement and not feel like they are going to be a suspect but rather treated like a victim,” Anderson said.

Lake County Attorney Laura Auron is also part of the task force and one of the forum speakers. She said residents are shocked by the idea that sex trafficking can happen in their community. However Auron said it pays to be vigilant.

“I think we're starting to become aware and training ourselves and educating ourselves on what does it look like when it does come into our community,” Auron said.

Hilliard said facing the disturbing problem is the only way residents will prevent it in Lake County.

“It's a scary thing. We don't have to make it scary. We just have to pay attention,” Hilliard said.

The forum was one of the first events hosted by the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force, and Hilliard said the passionate residents will continue to fight the problem.

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