Campaigners want 2015 to be the year they win the fight against the growing problem of human and sex trafficking across Minnesota and North Dakota.
The issue has dominated the news in recent days, with the Pioneer Press among those reporting on the link between sex trafficking and the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, where missing women and girls from the Twin Cities are sometimes found.
And today, WDIO reports steps are being taken to highlight the problem within communities among those most at risk from sex traffickers – American Indian tribes.
In Duluth Monday night, the Native Sisters Society announced it will be providing training to 11 different tribal communities over the next three years to increase awareness of the issue.
Society spokeswoman April Smith told a meeting at Trepanier Hall: "It's time to take action as a community. Let's move together with survivors at the forefront ... they have voices and we need to make space to hear them."
According to the Bismarck Tribune, human trafficking is causing a "crisis" among Native American communities across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The poverty levels among tribal communities, coupled with the huge levels of money earned by workers in the Bakken, is tempting young women and girls – some of whom are even encouraged to head to the oil patch by their relatives, the newspaper notes.
In downtown Fargo this Saturday, a candle-lit "Walk for Freedom" will be held to protest against the exploitation of women and girls in the human trafficking industry, which will follow a panel discussion at the Fargo Theater at 4 p.m., the Fargo Forum reports.
Growing problem – and not just in the cities
In October, a report by Minnesota's Department of Justice found that sex trafficking convictions in the state had doubled from 2012 to 2013, which also saw a rise in the number of minors being discovered in sex rings.
The Pioneer Press focused on the sex trafficking link between the Twin Cities and the Bakken Oil Fields, where the high concentration of unmarried men apparently makes it a potentially lucrative target for traffickers.
One former prostitute told the newspaper she could earn $1,000 a night in Bakken.
But the Brainerd Dispatch notes that the problem isn't just limited to these two areas, with traffickers also said to be operating in Duluth and Brainerd, partly because of the former's major shipping industry, and the latter's numerous hunting and fishing spots.
Crow Wing County commissioner Rachel Nystrom told the newspaper she's seen online postings for dates with "18-year-old women" in the Brainerd area, many of whom turn out to be underage.
She said: "13-year-old girls and 14-year-old girls, I couldn't believe it."
According to The Covering House, sex trafficking generates $9.5 billion in the USA every year, with an estimated 300,000 children at risk of being prostituted across the country.