NonprofitIamA Outreach Advocate who works with sex trafficking survivors and high risk youth! AMA!

Aug 3rd 2017 by sisterscythe • 9 Questions • 39 Points

Hello! My name is Makoons and I work at the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) in Duluth, Minnesota. We are a local non-profit that provides numerous services to survivors of sexual assault including forensic nurse exams and training, legal assistance, therapy, and general support and advocacy - all at no cost to the survivor.

As a Trafficking Outreach Worker I am contracted out to the Duluth Police Department and housed at their headquarters in the sex crimes unit. I assist investigators in contacting survivors, keeping in touch with families, tracking runaway and missing persons (as many trafficking cases begin as these sort of reports), consult and mediate between the department and Social Services, consult with local tribes, help review and sort evidence, and accompany officers on interviews with survivors and high-risk youth. I also help determine who among our runaway cases could be considered high-risk.

I just want to add a couple of things to keep in mind : I am not here representing the Duluth Police Department as they have their own person responsible for dealing with public/media inquiries. Though I'm housed here I am an employee of PAVSA.

The purpose of this AMA is to spread awareness of sex trafficking and to bring attention to our model of service, as to our knowledge we are the only org in the country with a Trafficking Outreach Advocate embedded in a police department.

If you would like to support our cause there is a donation button on our website or else supporting your local sexual assault advocacy group would be very thoughtful and appreciated!

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Hi, and thanks for your work. Your work may not make headlines but you make a real impact in so many peoples' lives.

How organized is sex trafficking in Minnesota? How many people are involved?

Where do the women come from? Minnesota, nearby states, or are they immigrants?

Do you think legalization and regulation of sex work would help or hurt vulnerable women?

What kind of girls/boys are most at risk?

What makes you angriest about your work?

What is the most satisfying thing about your work?

Thanks again for all you do. You save lives!


Hello! Thank you for your kind words.

  1. This really depends on the case. I would say generally pimps work independently and don't answer to anyone but themselves. Sometimes sex trafficking is a part of gang structure and there is a hierarchy involved but in almost all the cases I've worked in it's been individual pimps.

  2. The majority of the survivors I work with are local, but many who are recruited are shuttled around the state and even across state. Some follow circuits or are brought to specific areas where there is higher demand. The Bakken Oil Fields, for example, is one place many young girls from my area are shipped to, or they use reservation casinos as their circuiting points. Large events like concerts, hunting season, fishing opener, and fight nights also bring more sex trafficking to the area as there will be more potential buyers. The whole state is already batting down the hatches for when the Superbowl comes next January.

  3. I think in regards to legalization, penalties on "sex workers" need to be abolished and penalties on buyers/pimps increased. Though we have laws in our state to protect underage trafficking victims, once they turn 18 it legally becomes their choice as they are adults. Which is ridiculous, considering their captors aren't going to stop threatening them or feeding them drugs or whatever else they're doing to keep them in the life.

  4. There are many many risk factors. Children in foster care, teens with a rebellious or misunderstood attitude, kids from broken homes or with parents who are absent or neglectful...really since the age of entry is about 13, what kid at that age doesn't want to be treated special or told they're beautiful?

  5. I think what makes me angriest is just the meticulousness of the brainwashing that occurs to get the youth to comply. The emotional abuse and using their developmental state to take advantage of them. It's horrible enough that it's done to adults but when it's done to children it's hard to fathom what goes through a person's mind. And when a girl who's survived it turns to you and says things like "why did they do this? It's so mean." it really makes you see the child in them and how beyond their understanding all of this really is.

  6. The most satisfying thing is when I'm able to make a connection with a survivor that officers were unable to work with. Many of my clients are afraid of police either because they're afraid of getting in trouble or they've had negative past experiences in the system. It feels good to be able to give someone the assistance, information, and confidence they need to tell their story or find safety.

Thanks again!


Thanks for the reply!

I looked into the sex trafficking issue a bit after reading the "Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" trilogy. I was shocked at the extent sex trafficking happens in Minnesota (I live here, too). I think people would be angrier if they knew that the girls involved are not faceless and "bad", but are girls who are local and were manipulated at a very young age.

What is the best way for a girl to contact someone who can help, other than the police?


I would say you best bet is a local advocacy center, most states have at least one. But because there isn't a ton of awareness sometimes programs are few and far between.


How did you get into this line of work?


Prior to working for PAVSA I spent 4 1/2 years as an advocate for battered women at a local Native American women's shelter. I loved the work but needed something that paid better as I was freshly married and expecting our first child. So I accepted a position as a tribal social worker which I did between two tribes over the course of 4 years.

Social work burned me out. Bad. I wanted to do something where I felt like I was making a difference in someone's life, and that they wanted me there and wanted my assistance. I figured I could use my knowledge of the system and my connections with social services, the police department, and local court system to my clients' advantage when I applied to work at PAVSA. They hired me on as a Legal Advocate to help prepare documents such as Harassment Restraining Orders and applications for restitution etc. They then received this grant jointly with the Duluth Police Department and they preferred to hire someone who was themselves Native American as Native people are highly overrepresented amongst trafficking survivors. My boss knew I also had an interest in missing people and runaways and asked me if I'd like the position and I accepted.


Do you find most victims willingly get wrapped up in this sort of trouble? (Running away with boyfriend they barely know, etc) Or are most cases abductions?


I would say it's more the former, but I would use the word "willingly" very cautiously.

Most cases of sex trafficking you hear about are the more sensational stories of people being kidnapped or taken against their will, but it's much more common that someone vulnerable will encounter what we call a "finesse pimp." This is someone who is skilled at identifying someone who is vulnerable and creating a significant relationship with them. They'll offer them attention or material things they wouldn't otherwise get, take them on dates, tell them they love them, and gain their trust. They may convince a person to run away with them, or it could be a "sneaker pimp", an underage recruiter who finds these people for the pimp in a school or other area a sketchy adult wouldn't have access to children in.

Soon after they have them isolated there are many ways pimps choose to "turn out" their victim. Many have some "financial crisis" befall them where they convince the victim to "do it just this one time" or with a few of their "friends" in order to keep from being evicted, get money for food, etc. When they try to leave or stop, they can be emotionally blackmailed or threatened.

Many survivors I've talked to initially believed it was their choice. They believe their pimp really loves them and that they did it for them. But the coercion, lies, and threats give them little room to choose.


Thanks for your response! The whole "industry" is so brutally awful. Nowadays you see more and more stories about it, I have an underlying fear I'll be taken and forced into sex trafficking. I've heard of the "finesse pimps" and always caution friends...if it's too good to be true, it isn't true.

Out of curiosity, not sure if you can share, have any victims you've worked with escaped? Or are they usually found by police? I'm sure you come across a couple that are unhappy to be taken out of it, as it's all they know (my ignorance and lack of knowledge on the topic speaking, I don't mean to say anything offensive)

On another note, I'm happy you were able to get into a job that you feel you're making a difference with! You're doing a great thing


I would say the majority are found by police, but there have been several who have escaped. Usually where there is trafficking, drugs are not far behind. In fact, many survivors were forced to do drugs or drink only alcohol to keep them subdued. But because of this, it has given some of the survivors I've worked with very lucky opportunities to slip out unnoticed when their captor was high or too drunk to notice. But this is not common.

Thank you for your questions and words of encouragement!


Hi! So I've always been intrigued by the structure and high functionality Amsterdam's red light district. What's your stance on having a similar space for prostitution that is government regulated?


This is very complex because I understand all sides of the argument. Colleagues would probably say that a buyer is still taking advantage of a sex worker even if it appeared regulated and entirely voluntary because many women who work in sex industries (stripping, porn, etc) have a sexual trauma history that might lead them to place less value on their bodies or personhood. They might also say that if a woman is willing to be a sex worker for the purpose of surviving, that they are still being exploited by their buyers. An argument I've heard from those in favor of them is that it takes away a woman's agency to say the only reason she'd be a sex worker is because someone is taking advantage of her.

My personal belief is that selling a person as a product is a dangerous, dehumanizing act that should not be encouraged no matter how safe. The less we see those around us as fellow humans, the more we're willing to exploit them, and honestly I think women already have to deal with enough of these attitudes in media, entertainment, and society at large. Those are attitudes we should try to extinguish rather than encourage and buying someone's body is seeing them as something less than a person in my mind.


This is one of the most compelling arguments I have heard. I think that many problems with our society and culture are rooted in pornography.

Porn is a gateway into worse and harder acts. Just read the stories of serial rapest and murders. Many of them will admit that they started with pornography.

While not everybody may become such an extreme example, I feel there are certainly other negative effects that are much more hidden and insidious in nature.


While I agree porn and especially the porn industry present a problem, I wouldn't necessarily consider it a root as much as a symptom. I would argue that the sexualizing of women and use of their bodies to sell products and the general sexism of society is far more harmful. This is something all of us are exposed to from birth: men are defined by their sexual prowess, and women by their ability to attract men. I know using the term "rape culture" leads to a lot of groaning and hard feelings, so perhaps another term could be "depersonalization culture." This is something both men and women encounter and it's very normalized. Porn is just a part of a whole world of media aimed at men's baser instincts that further encourages the thought that their worth is in their sexuality, and a woman is a means to an end (not a person) to proving it.


do you call people youths in front of them?


No I would call them by their names. When I talk to people outside the work I do I say youths because I think it conjures a more accurate picture of who I'm working with than saying children.


What would be your advice for someone thinking about going into this field or one like it? I've been thinking about doing something to do with survivors of assault and I'm not sure where to start that as a career.


Many organizations like mine have opportunities to get internships or volunteer. 4 of our current employees are former interns/volunteers. It trains you in the work and creates relationships with the people already working there. Organizations would much rather hire someone they know is educated in and passionate for the work than someone with a bunch of degrees and no understanding of survivor needs!