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John Lundy, Published October 12 2013

Duluth men's forum to address issue of sex trafficking

DULUTH, Minn. – A men’s forum on sexual trafficking in Duluth won’t just discuss the issue, an organizer said. It also will call for practical steps to address the problem.

“Understanding that the demand for trafficking is predominantly through men, it fits right in with Men as Peacemakers’ mission to take a look at how men can join women in being part of the solution,” said Ed Heisler, executive director of the nonprofit Duluth organization.

Men as Peacemakers is collaborating with the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, the American Indian Community Housing Organization and Mending the Sacred Hoop to host the Men Against Trafficking Forum at 6:30 p.m. Monday in Wellstone Hall of the Labor Temple.

Heisler cited a Duluth Trafficking Task Force survey released in April in which 63 people – 49 of them female – identified themselves as trafficking victims. Two of them said they were 9 or 10 years old when first exposed to prostitution.

It also has been exposed in recent criminal cases:

- In July, a St. Paul man and a Northfield woman were found guilty in Ramsey County District Court of sex trafficking a woman and a girl from Duluth.

- In September, a Duluth man was found guilty of sex trafficking a teenager for nearly seven months in Duluth, the Twin Cities and the Chicago area.

Call for action

Behind the statistics are victims who are beaten, stalked and intimidated, said Chuck Deery, co-founder of the Gender Violence Institute in Clearwater and the Minnesota Men’s Action Network.

“We listen to survivor stories, and it’s just unbelievable,” he said.

It will be up to the men at the forum to decide what to do, Heisler said, but there will be a call for action.

Among approaches that have been tried elsewhere:

- “The Mending Project,” in which “male-oriented or male-run businesses provide goods and services that women and children need,” according to Deery.

- Establishing a “clean hotel policy,” in which businesses, public and private organizations, and municipalities refuse business to hotels that provide pay-per-view pornography in their rooms.

“There’s a good chance that what you’re watching could have a lot of pain ... behind the scenes because there is a lot of trafficking that bolsters the pornography industry,” Heisler said.

Monday’s forum is open to all, including women, but the idea is to get men into the discussion.

“It’s very heartening to see the current level of discussion about trafficking,” Deery said. “And it’s heartening to see more men stepping up because we don’t want to take pleasure in women’s pain.”