Rotary International to tackle human trafficking

Elk River Council gets on board after local Rotary asks for proclamation to raise awareness

by Maggie Stanwood

Contributing Writer

In Elk River, the month of January will be dedicated to human trafficking awareness and prevention after the Elk River City Council approved a proclamation designating the month as such at the council meeting on Monday.

The council also dedicated Jan. 11, 2020, as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

The proclamation was requested by the Elk River Rotary Club. Rotary International has added human trafficking awareness to its global initiatives, where the issue joins the eradication of polio. According to the Rotary International website, polio cases have been reduced by 99.9% since the organization’s first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979.

More than 160 clubs and 5,000 Rotarians are joining the efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking. Locally, Rotary 5950, 5960 and 5580 are trying to end human trafficking in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and parts of Ontario.

The first step is to educate about the issue, Rotary awareness champion Dave Anderson said.

“We have a lot of vulnerable kids in our society,” Anderson said. “I wanted to get out there and see if we can educate the people in our community. If we educate them, they don’t get involved in it and so we could get it to stop.”

According to council documents, 2 million to 4 million victims are being trafficked with about 75% being exploited for sex. Almost half are children, and most are women and girls.

“Its victims and survivors are everywhere, with each city and community being no exception,” according to the proclamation.

In 2018 in Minnesota, the National Human Trafficking Hotline was contacted 314 times and 120 human trafficking cases were reported, according to the hotline website. Anderson said Elk River’s proximity to the highways makes it likely that there is trafficking activity in and around the city.

“It does happen here,” Anderson said. “We’re along the freeway. People come back and forth on that and get from here to Chicago, here to Minneapolis.”

In addition, potential victims can be recruited from anywhere thanks to the internet. According to the Child Advocacy Center of Lapeer County in Michigan, traffickers are able to find victims through social media and various websites.

“Kids are exposed to so many platforms of social media,” Anderson said. “They’re sharing information and things, but it gets really easy to share things they shouldn’t share. There’s people out there on the internet that are trolling for that sort of information.”

Traffickers can then use this information to exploit and blackmail people. Anderson said to help prevent this, it’s important for parents to have conversations with their children about coming to them without fear of retribution should something like that happen.

“It’s a lot better to get it fixed and cleaned up early in the process than let them go down that path and get into deeper and deeper trouble,” Anderson said.

Anderson said parents and community members can help eliminate human trafficking by educating themselves about the signs of human trafficking and how to report it.

“Just watch out for the signs and what’s going on around them to make sure that you know what’s going on and help guide that child through whatever they’re going through,” Anderson said.

In other action at the Jan. 6 meeting, the council:

•Appointed Michelle Hegarty and Mary Keifenheim to the Library Board for three-year terms. Hegarty will take the seat of Mick Stoffers, who decided to not seek reappointment. Keifenheim completed one three-year term and requested reappointment.

•Accepted a monetary donation of $2,000 from the Zimmerman Fire Department Relief Association, $1,000 of which to be used for program scholarships and $1,000 to be used by the fire department for safety equipment.

•Accepted a $5,000 grant award from the Walmart Community Grants Team and local Walmart #3209 to purchase a firefighter turnout gear dryer for the Elk River Fire Department. “This piece of equipment is vital for protecting our firefighters from the continuous exposure to cancer-causing chemicals produced at fires,” according to council documents.

•Held a swearing-in ceremony for police officer Jeanette Nelson. Nelson was hired in September 2019 and has since completed field training. Nelson has a degree in business management and a degree in criminal justice. Her partner pinned on her badge.

•Approved a final design for the Woodland Trails Regional Park playground and shelter. The area will feature sand and water features, “hobbit” tunnels, trails, shelters, and boulder climbing with the potential to add on should the bids come in under budget. Bids are expected to go out in the next month, with construction beginning in the spring. The total project budget is $325,000 with the city handling $90,000 as part of a matching grant.

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