Eve Lavrenz, a victim advocate at Support Within Reach in Bemidji, sees around 10 to 25 clients a month. She says what people fail to realize is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation can happen to anyone.
“Each and every one of us, no matter our life circumstances, are just a couple of bad circumstances away from being in the position of the people we really look down on, or that some people look down on. And I really like to push that to people because this is an issue that is in our communities and I want to bring awareness to it,” Lavrenz said.
Support Within Reach has been in Bemidji for years. It’s a community service organization that serves those impacted by incidents of sexual violence. Lavrenz says the advocacy and timeline looks different for each client.
“It can be something like meeting with that client the day of an assault or the day of an instance of trafficking and helping them with that current, right then current crisis,” Lavrenz says. “The thing about advocacy is that it is continuous. It is throughout their journey to healing. We work in tandem with other organizations and other agencies.”
Most human traffickers travel between 30 to 60 miles to purchase sex, and many traffickers will go and traffic outside their communities. Exploitation happens when one person benefits off of another person. Human trafficking usually involves a third party: the trafficker, forcing a person to do something against their will.
“What we see is much more of a trafficker getting to know their victims over the spam of months or years, convincing them that they’re their boyfriend and slowly sort of grooming them into doing things they wouldn’t be okay with doing,” said Michael Pittman, Support Within Reach Northwest Regional Navigator. “My goal for the Northwest region is that when someone says sex trafficking, people’s minds don’t go to movies like ‘Taken’ or think about a white van waiting to pick up somebody.”
Human trafficking and exploitation do not discriminate based on gender or race. Lavrenz says people should seek out information and educate themselves on human trafficking.
Support Within Reach covers Beltrami, Itasca, Aitkin, Cass, Clearwater and Hubbard Counties. For more information about the resource center, you can visit their website here. You can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.