According to a University Chronicle survey, only 30 percent of respondents knew that there is a prostitution ring in St. Cloud and only 30 percent of respondents said that they knew someone who was a prostitute in the St. Cloud area. According to the data, 50 percent of respondents said they didn’t have an opinion on the situation, but one respondent said that prostitution should be legalized so that it can be regulated; others said they were shocked and sad that prostitution is present in St. Cloud.
Despite the lack of student and public knowledge, stopping the ongoing prostitution has become a top priority for the St. Cloud Police Department. Last week the St. Cloud Times held a panel of experts at the SCPD in the hopes of educating the public about sex trafficking and how it is still an ongoing problem in St. Cloud. The panel included investigators, prosecutors, and experts on sex trafficking victims.
The panel experts’ main point was to show that sex trafficking is still a major issue, and how it takes everyone to make a better community. According to the St. Cloud Times there have been over 200 identified prostitutes who have worked in St. Cloud and over 100 men charged with solicitation. That number has only increased since this summer.
Prosecutors such as Shan Wang from the Waite Park County District and investigators such as Jason Thompson have had to work hard this past year to alleviate the issue, but they’re finding that it is a lot more complex than what people realize.
A representative from the St. Cloud Sexual Assault Center talked about how women are often forced into sex trafficking by a family member or a friend. The panel experts reiterated the fact that these problems start close to home, and the easiest step towards prevention is to pay attention to loved ones.
“As much as we want to do we just don’t have the resources,” Wang said. “That’s why it’s important to keep a close eye on friends and neighbors for suspicious activity.”
This emotional abuse can be as simple as a boyfriend taking someone shopping and then demanding sex in return. Experts said that sex trafficking isn’t like what people see in the movies, and that often times people won’t see the women who this happens to.
The panel speakers agreed that prevention is key, and a way to do that is to focus on education. Gender Violence Institute Representative Chuck Derry stressed the importance of open communication in schools about sexuality. He talked to the crowd about spreading awareness and how there is a need for schools to address what healthy sexuality looks like. His top concern is that people in today’s society can no longer determine what healthy sexuality is because of stereotypes that are perpetuated in media.
“The sexualization of women and girls has become sort of normalized in male culture,” he said. “But many of us have not made the connection between the violence and the coercion.”
Derry used bachelor parties as an example of how simply going to a strip club can perpetuate the normalization of sex in a culture. The representatives from the Sexual Assault Center elaborated on this, saying that they get multiple calls every week about sexual violence. They quoted a statistic saying that 75 percent of women in prostitution have been sexually assaulted.
“They’re not there by choice,” the representative said. “It’s sometimes about survival.”
The panel showed the importance of education, and how being informed is a key to sex trafficking prevention. The SCPD has made strides in the fight against sex trafficking, but is still working on solutions to dealing with victims and making the community safer for everyone.
This story was contributed by Kyle Fahrmann and Bailey Vertin