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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!