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Women's church group speaker will highlight sex trafficking victims

Esko native Erin Aili will share a message of hope and healing for victims of sex trafficking at the newly formed Heart to Heart friendship ministry, which will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 4, at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Esko.

Esko native Erin Aili will share a message of hope and healing for victims of sex trafficking at the newly formed Heart to Heart friendship ministry, which will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 4, at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Esko.

Aili founded "A Beautiful Rescue" to raise awareness of sex trafficking in the region and to raise funds to help groups that work with victims of prostitution because she wanted to make a difference.

"Six years ago, I decided I wanted to have a deeper purpose in life," Aili said. "So I prayed and asked God to break my heart with what breaks His heart. Then I started seeing things in the news about human trafficking and its victims. It did break my heart."

Growing up in Esko, Aili didn't realize that prostitution was an issue in Minnesota. She has since learned that Minnesota ranks 13th in instances of human trafficking.

"Most of it occurs in the Twin Cities, but there are a lot of girls and women from Duluth, too," she said. "Law enforcement says it happens in every county -- some in rural areas, but mostly in urban areas. You get girls who are homeless, maybe they ran away from home and are hopping from couch to couch."

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"It happens here; trust us, it happens," Shunu Shrestha of PAVSA, or the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, told the Duluth News Tribune in January. How frequently is hard to say. The girls too often see themselves the way society for too long has seen them: as criminals and prostitutes rather than as the crime victims they truly are.

So they don't talk.

No one talks.

And it keeps happening.

Anyone who wants to know more about the issue of human trafficking or get involved with Heart to Heart is welcome to attend Saturday's event, which runs from 10-11:30 a.m. While Aili will be the guest speaker, Master Gardner Nan Lindquist will present "Orchids and More" and Robin Johnson and Christina Walter will provide music. A $2 donation is appreciated. Contact St. Matthew's at 218-879-3510 to find out more or to request childcare during the meeting.

Saturday's event will also serve as a fundraiser for A Beautiful Rescue, which partners with the Duluth Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force to provide assistance when it's needed. A Beautiful Rescue is also beginning a partnership with the campus ministry at University of Minnesota Duluth.

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