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People may not have heard about any sex stings in the Brainerd lakes area for some time-but that doesn't mean the issue has disappeared.

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It just means traffickers have to figure out a different way of advertising to solicit customers, after a new law went into effect last year making websites able, including Back and Craigslist, for knowingly hosting for paid sex. Kate Le, Saving Grace case manager at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota in Brainerd, said the Brainerd lakes area has so many great community resources and the panel discussion was a way to showcase them and to continue to foster the relationships and expand education efforts.

According to the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, the average age when victims are first trafficked is An estimated 6, youths experience homelessness on any given night in Minnesota, making them prime targets for traffickers who prey on youths in crises.

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During the Jan. In alone, the Department of Justice secured convictions against more than defendants in human trafficking cases and the FBI dismantled more than 42 criminal enterprises engaged in child sex trafficking, according to the Dec. The Department of Homeland Security initiated more than human trafficking cases, resulting in at least 1, arrests and convictions.

Le said sex traffickers will go on girls' Facebook s, who they think have low self-esteem and begin grooming them to become victims.

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Le said when a victim is identified, LSS has programs to assist them. The Saving Grace program provides youths under age 18 affected by sex trafficking with safe housing, helps them come up with an individualized safety and life plan, and provides basic needs to help them find safe shelter and rebuild their lives, as well as prevent other youths from being trafficked.

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Life House Safe Harbor Program, a state program provided by several organizations, including LSS, provides a continuum of care for underage male, female, and gender non-conforming victims of commercially sexual exploitation. Life House provides two shelter beds for sexually exploited or trafficked youths age 15 to 19 of all genders, and a transitional housing program for youths age 15 to 20 years old of all genders.

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Outside of LSS is Rising Hope, a nonprofit organization created in with the goal to help trafficking victims heal and get back into society. As part of the organization, Vicki and and David Leckie developed the Freedom Ranch project, which will provide housing south of Brainerd where girls rescued from the enslavement of human trafficking can begin healing with the help of counselors, educators and health care professionals in a safe environment.

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Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted, a member of the Brainerd Lakes Area Sex Trafficking Team, said the task force has been around for nine to 10 years and the agency or group running human and sex trafficking prevention and education has changed over the years. He said when back.

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Police began doing several "hotel stings" inwhere several people were arrested. But now law enforcement is more in the background and the advocacy groups are at the forefront with spreading the word on prevention and education. Exsted said the state changed requirements for renewal for hotels, which meant more training for hotel employees and a good working relationship with law enforcement if an employee sees something suspicious, or what could be sex trafficking.

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Exsted said law enforcement focused on sting operations through internet crimes in the past two years. Craig Katzenberger was hired two years ago to be Crow Wing County's investigator to focus on internet crimes. Katzenberger, who also is a Brainerd Lakes Area Sex Trafficking Team member, said the position was created to work primarily on child crimes on the internet, to include human and sex trafficking.

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Katzenberger said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has a task force and any tips coming through the hotline are shared with the area law enforcement agency. Katzenberger said when back. Then, the federal government shut down the websites.

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Katzenberger said it's been difficult to find traffickers as law enforcement hasn't found any particular site they are using to solicit buyers. Law enforcement has been doing investigations on their own, posing as juvenile girls and engaging with sex buyers, and have made some arrests. Le said advocacy groups are focusing on prevention and education.

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LSS trains employees and helps victims identify what a good, healthy relationship is. We have to take time to model healthy relationships with these youth.

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A trafficker can be anybody. Internet comes into play so much.

We have to educate people on how to use the internet safely. Le said LSS does not push any of the services on the victims. She said they work with the youths to provide the basics, such as shelter and food.

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Then they let the victim know what options they have and allow them to choose how they are helped. News Advocates continue efforts against sex trafficking in lakes area People may not have heard about any sex stings in the Brainerd lakes area for some time--but that doesn't mean the issue has disappeared. It just means traffickers have to figure out a different way of advertising to solicit customers, after a ne Written By: Jennifer Kraus pm, Feb. Suggested Articles.

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