Human trafficking is not always an obvious crime, and authorities said people may not realize it is happening in their area.
There were no confirmed human trafficking cases in Carlton County in the past year, said Derek Randall, Cloquet Police chief, but authorities still investigate any tips they receive.
"It can be difficult to, not only identify, but to allow for the victims to come out," he said.
Human trafficking is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services or commercial sex.”
According to lieutenant Dan Danielson of the Carlton County Sheriff's Office, finding and addressing issues of human trafficking requires local authorities to use proactive measures, such as sting operations.
In December 2020, the Carlton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on a joint powers agreement, combining the Carlton County Sheriff Office’s efforts with those of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force to combat human trafficking in the area.
The state task force uses a three-pronged approach — education, prevention and enforcement — to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation in children.
There is not currently a Safe Harbor Regional Navigator in Carlton County, with the closest one being the Program to Aid Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) located in Duluth. Safe Harbor Regional Navigators connect youth who may have been sexually exploited with resources, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. There also is not a local helpline designated solely for Carlton County trafficking victims.
Randall acknowledged that there is room for improvement with trafficking efforts in the county, but said he believes the county is doing a decent job addressing the issues.
Another resource available locally is the Tribes United against Sex Trafficking (TRUST) task force through the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. TRUST began in 2018 and operates among Minnesota’s 11 federally recognized tribes.
Since its inception, TRUST has had 17 sex trafficking cases, 24 investigated cases and 10 arrests, according to Molly Berhow, sex trafficking investigator for the Fond du Lac Police Department.
The task force's main goals include developing a communication system among tribal partners and investigating more sex trafficking cases, Berhow said.
“Sex trafficking in and around Minnesota's Native American communities is a complex and pervasive problem,” she said.
In November 2020, TRUST partnered with the state task force to launch the Your Call MN campaign to raise awareness and increase reporting of suspected trafficking cases in the state.
The campaign encourages individuals to follow the Your Call MN Facebook page, where information about sex trafficking is disseminated through a series of community discussions and educational videos, Berhow said.
In September 2020, billboards were installed near major highways and on tribal land with the BCA’s sex trafficking hotline number: 877-996-6222.
“We want people to understand and recognize suspected sex trafficking and know how to report it appropriately,” Berhow said. “The public is our best resource, and educating the public is a huge step in the fight against human [and] sex trafficking.”
Randall said CPD works closely with TRUST and the BCA to investigate trafficking cases in the area. The department also collaborates with other jurisdictions to track cases across the country.
"Networking is key," Randall said. "Everyone comes together."
- Predators often use social media and grooming tactics to target younger victims.
Although certain demographics are more vulnerable than others, anyone can be a target for human trafficking.
Traffickers use a variety of tactics to control victims, including physical and emotional abuse, threats, isolation from friends and family and economic abuse.
- The Minnesota Safe Harbor Law prevents people under the age of 24 from being prosecuted for prostitution — rather they are treated as victims of sexual exploitation and granted resources for help and protection.
Sources: Internet Safety 101, National Human Trafficking Hotline, Minnesota Department of Health, Polaris Project.
How to get help
- Anyone who sees suspicious behavior or is experiencing human trafficking can call 911 or the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office at 218-384-3236.
- Cases can also be reported to the Carlton County Health and Human Services Department by calling 218-499-6315 or to the BCA at 1-877-996-6222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For questions regarding other resources in the county, contact Children and Families Unit supervisor Rhiannon Carey at 218-878-2517.
- PAVSA's 24 hour helpline can be reached at 218-726-1931.
- Learn more about Safe Harbor Regional Navigators program on the Safe Harbor webpage.
- Learn more about human trafficking services by calling the Day One Hotline at 1-866-223-1111.
- Reach the 24/7 National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.
- To contact Your Call MN, text "HELP" to 22333.
- Find more Minnesota resources by visiting the community resources page on the Your Call MN website, yourcallmn.org.