KELLY BREVIG COLUMN: Start having the conversations
The ad says: "Hot sex now, anyway you want it." What it doesn't say is this: women, girls and boys are for sale. Where? Anywhere you want. Why? Because the demand is there, and the profit off of human life and use/reuse is deplorably staggering.
We have done an incredible job as a society, feeding the frenzy that is immediate gratification and consumption of sex. We have confused and blurred the lines between consensual relationships, love, lust and sex. We have decided that sex is a right; when, where and how we want it. We have decided that we will look away when the average "John," (who on average is a white male, married with children, middle aged and affluent) decides to slip away in secret and purchase a human for sex.
Don't get me wrong, as a whole, we are shocked to hear that women and children are being exploited and trafficked in Minnesota. We are flabbergasted when we learn that it happens here in our backyard. Yet, despite the shock and awe of the truth, the numbers of women and girls (men and boys, too) being forced into prostitution keep climbing. Who is making the purchase? How can we identify and stop them?
"The first thing that every one of us can do, is start changing the conversation about these issues, and before we can start CHANGING the conversation, we need to start HAVING the conversation." So says Sara Collins, the Northwest Regional Navigator for Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door through Support Within Reach. Sara talks about rapid changing technology, apps and websites that are a thumb tap and swipe away; and how they are changing faster than advocates and law enforcement can keep up. On one site here in the Bemidji area, (a site that is noted to be no longer favored by pimps) there have been approximately 20 (local) girls advertised in the last three months. Again I ask the question; why are we selling our children?
The following quotes are excerpts from Minnesota youth who have been exploited and trafficked. The full report is called "Voices of Safe Harbor: Survivor & Youth Input for Minnesota's Model Protocol on Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Youth 2015." The Project Lead Agencies and Funding Support come from the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Sexual Violence Justice Institute, the Hennepin County Juvenile Services and Hennepin County No Wrong Door Initiative.
"If you never prostituted it's hard to see why people do the things they do."
"Because you're a prostitute they think you're dirty, filthy, that you're trying to get over. They don't think maybe this person needs counseling instead of labeling them as a prostitute . . . they don't (think) that there could be reasons behind it."
"We're not choosing to do this. We go with it because we don't know other options."
"Whatever men asked of me I did so I could eat."
"(Adults are) not understanding of the situation and how dependent someone can get on the adults in their lives, not understanding they just can't stop."
"For me there was somebody behind me who always came back even if I went somewhere different. He would find me or his group of friends. If a girl is involved with a guy who is gang-affiliated or they have a group of 'partners,' they're all in it together and they all communicate together about the girls..."
"I just wasn't going home because it wasn't safe. I found safety with a man who I thought was good for me and built me up but really it was a source of control."
"Sometimes you have to ask questions before jumping to conclusions . . . you have to ask what their story is and how did they end up doing this."
Each of these quotes tells a story. Each represents an exploited and trafficked youth who was entered into "the life" of prostitution as a child. Now they have entered a system designed to help. Each want desperately for the truth to be told. They had no choice. They were abused and hurt long before they were ever sold. They want to not be a commodity and sold for their body parts. They want to know their real worth, not the lies they have been fed their whole lives. Who will tell them that they have infinite value? The best way to do this is by helping to stop demand. We are "Minnesota nice" and we are better than what are statistics show. It's time we get "not so nice" with the buyers and send a message loud and clear: Our children are not for sale. Our women are not for sale. Buyers beware, we won't stand for it anymore. It's time to start talking.
Brevig is Program Supervisor for Support Within Reach. Reach her at (218) 444-9524 or (800) 708-2727.