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Duluth mobilizes to stop human trafficking

Members of Mending the Sacred Hoop perform a red shawl ceremonial dance to honor victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 2
Mayor Emily Larson addresses the crowd at the Human Trafficking Awareness Month kickoff Jan. 9. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 2

The Duluth Trafficking Task Force, a collaborative of dozens of local organizations, hosted a community gathering at noon on Monday, Jan. 9 in Trepanier Hall to officially recognize January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Duluth.

The event began with a red-shawl ceremony performed by members of Mending the Sacred Hoop. The red shawls were created by Native women to show their solidarity and support for other Native women and children who have been victimised by sexual assault and/or domestic violence. The teal-colored fringe honors victims and survivors of sexual assault, the purple fringe represents victims and survivors of domestic violence and trafficking.

"During that beautiful dance, I was thinking of all the beautiful women in my life who are represented in those shawls and in that dance," said Mayor Emily Larson. "And if you in this room believe that you do not know someone who has been affected by prostitution, trafficking, sexual violence, you are wrong because they are all around you."

Mayor Larson issued a declaration recognizing January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. She echoed a hopeful statement made by event emcee Adele Yorde that there will come a time when this gathering's tone will be able to focus on the work that was done and not all the work to come.

"Maybe there will come a time when we will no longer be gathering for the same reasons, but I hope that every year we do gather. So that we can continue to heal the scars trafficking and sexual violence create through community love," Larson said.

The main focus of this year's gathering was to highlight how the community has responded to the issue. Social service agencies, schools, shelters, churches, healthcare organizations, hotels and a host of other community partners have joined forces to engage the public in addressing this issue.

Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken spoke briefly about the changes in human trafficking over the years. It's become harder to police as it has moved into a digital age, with trafficking occurring over internet back pages. He also spoke about the link between human and drug trafficking.

"At times, we wind up taking the low hanging fruit on drugs charges because we can't ascertain that trafficking actually happened," Tusken said.

Cheryl Goldberg, owner and chief financial officer for IGO Legacy Hotel Group, which runs three local hotels in the Twin Ports area, spoke about taking the initiative to provide training for supervisors and staff to address sex trafficking.

"While doing volunteer work at a women's shelter in one of our hotel's communities, the director of the organization challenged us. She said, 'What are you doing as a hotel group to prevent sex trafficking?'" Goldberg said. "To be honest, at the time, I felt like we had nice hotels and we didn't fit the profile for this activity. Now, after further education, I know that this happens everywhere, regardless."

Goldberg invited Shunu Shrestha from the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) to speak with the hotel supervisors. Shrestha educated the staff to look for signs, encouraged them to develop relationships with local law enforcement and agencies which serve victims, and create a company policy to raise awareness.

"If we can help one victim, it's worth the time and effort," Goldberg said.

The event was also the kickoff for a month-long series of events aimed to address human trafficking. It was also the rollout for a new website,, to call attention to the issue and provide resources.

Community members are encouraged to attend the full slate of events scheduled for January and February 2017 to combat trafficking in Duluth and the surrounding area.

Saturday, Jan. 14: All-day Fond du Lac Pow Wow at Black Bear Casino (Carlton). Red shawl ceremony to remember and honor victims and survivors of trafficking.

Tuesday, Jan. 17, 6:30-8 p.m. Panel discussion: “Safe Harbor for All” (Doors open at 6 p.m.) Teatro Zuccone, 222 E. Superior St. Panel will explore costs and benefits associated with expanding the current Safe Harbor Law to adults. Currently, this law assumes that a person under age 18 is a victim of exploitation and not a criminal. Those interested in what our state is currently doing to combat sex trafficking and to learn about a bill on the docket to decriminalize adult victims, should attend. Featuring: Jeff Bauer, VP of Public Affairs, The Family Partnership and local leaders Patti Larsen, Sacred Hoop Coalition Director, and Connie Gunderson, Ph.D.,College of St. Scholastica.

Trafficking Awareness Month events

Thursday, Jan. 19, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Book read of “The Guest Room” by Chris Bohjalian. Main Library Gold Room, 520 W. Superior St.

Friday, Jan. 20, 5 p.m. “Don’t Buy It Project,” public release of part 1. Sponsored by Men as Peacemakers, Trepanier Hall, 204 W 2nd St.

Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m. “Brave Art.” Trepanier Hall, 204 W. Second St. A youth-organized, youth-centered event dedicated to raising awareness about sexual exploitation and recognizing the importance of humanizing victims/survivors.

Saturday, Feb. 11, 5 p.m. Nepali Dinner, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth, 835 W. College St. RSVPs required. Limited seating, reserve early. Call PAVSA at (218) 726-1442. Donations benefit the Emergency Fund for Victims/Survivors of Trafficking.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176