It takes all of us to stop human trafficking

Jan. 14, 2021

A young woman sitting on a swing at a playground

When you see the words “human trafficking,” what comes to mind? A young woman kidnapped and bound by a stranger? People forced to make shoes, clothing or electronics for some foreign company? This is often the way these crimes are portrayed on TV and in the movies, so it might surprise you to know that human trafficking takes place right here in Minnesota. In fact, it happens in all corners of the state, right under our very noses. Which means it’s up to us to do something about it.

There are two types of human trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is what you probably think it is: exploiting an individual or receiving any kind of profit knowing that it comes from an act of sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is the sale of a person for forced labor or receiving any kind of profit knowing that it comes from an act of forced labor. In short, human trafficking is the sale of a person for the purpose of sexual acts or forced labor. Both federal and Minnesota law prohibit trafficking no matter the type.

You may think of immigrants – documented or otherwise – when you think of likely victims of trafficking, but it’s a much wider scope. Runaways and homeless youth; indigenous women and girls; young people from the LGBTQ community; children in the child protection system; and those with substance abuse, mental health and disability issues can all be victims of trafficking. In other words, they could be your coworker, your neighbor, or even your friend. Human trafficking isn’t just someone else’s problem.

When human traffickers exploit their victims, they don’t always use violence. Many victims are trafficked by an intimate partner, friend, or even parent or guardian. These traffickers often use deception, fraud, manipulation or coercion to recruit their victims. They may offer things their victims need, such as shelter, food, clothing, protection, emotional support or love to lure them in.

Minnesotans are working at this crime from two sides: taking care of the victims and tracking down the traffickers. For example, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) leads the Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force, which provides coordinated and collaborative statewide assistance with human trafficking investigations, prosecutions, victim recoveries and trainings through a victim-centered approach. In 2019, the task force contributed to the arrest of over 60 people for soliciting sex with a minor/trafficking crimes, and recovered close to 30 victims. 

Where taking care of victims is concerned, Minnesota has a robust statewide victim service infrastructure in place to respond to human trafficking victims and connect them with resources. For example, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger of being trafficked, you can contact:

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month but it’s important we all pay attention to it year ‘round. After all, human trafficking is the third largest crime industry in the world and the highest grossing activity of trans-national criminal organizations. You can learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking, keeping in mind that it’s usually a set of circumstances that will tip you off rather than one specific thing.

Together, we can provide help and hope to victims of trafficking in Minnesota.