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Duluth Church Starts Initiative To End Sex Trafficking

DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) -- A new community effort is underway to end sex trafficking along the north shore in Duluth.

We first told you in May how women and girls from the north shore were being sold for sex. Now there is a new push to get those victims the services they need to stop.

Hillside Church in Duluth's downtown district served as a training ground for how to fight back against sex trafficking.

Ryan Bauers is lead pastor at Hillside Church. He said the first step for many of the women is acknowledging that the problem exists in the community.

"The truth is sometimes really, really uncomfortable. That's what you find when you listen to these women and girls. This is reality," Bauers said.

There have been 18 more arrests by the Lake Superior Trafficking Task Force this summer. Officers posed online as prostitutes and Johns on Craigslist and Backpage looking for clients.

Scott Drewlo is an administrative affairs commander with the Duluth Police Department. He said the undercover decoys are always very successful.

"Every time we do something in prostitution-related demand, it's so high it's like fishing with dynamite. You're guaranteed an arrest," Drewlo said.

For years, girls along the north shore have been lured from schools, malls and reservations into the trade. 

While there is counseling and support services available for victims of sex trafficking in Duluth, advocates said there is a real need for shelter.

"There needs to be a safe place for women to go to transition out of the life," Drewlo said.

Breaking Free, a non-profit in St. Paul that helps women break the cycle, led the training with the hope to start a similar program in Duluth. From the faith community to law enforcement, it is a movement gaining ground to show girls there is a way out.

"How can you not do something about an issue like this?" Ryan Bauers said.

There will be a fundraiser at Zeitgeist Arts Café in Duluth on Dec. 2 to help women and girls transition out of trafficking.

Watch Liz Collin's original report on sex trafficking in Duluth here.

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