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Bay cities adopt sex trafficking proclamation

Susan Hilliard of the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force addressed a group of 20 concerned citizens in Beaver Bay Tuesday. Area residents turned out to learn more about combating trafficking and child exploitation in Lake County. Photo by Cristina Manahan.

Ken Vogel

The Cities of Silver Bay and Beaver Bay have signed a proclamation designating January as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. On Jan. 6, at the annual meeting of the City Council, Silver Bay Mayor Joanne Johnson requested and received approval from the council to adopt the proclamation, citing the growing need for citizens to become aware that the sexual exploitation of children has become a growing problem.

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On Jan. 7, about 20 people attended an informational meeting presented by the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force at the Beaver Bay Community Center. Susan Hilliard, one of the task force founders, presented facts describing the depth of human trafficking.

“This is the second most profitable criminal enterprise in existence with profits estimated at $9.8 billion per year. Only the illegal drug trade surpasses it,” Hilliard said, adding that the Twin Cities is ranked 13th in the nation for trafficking.

Hilliard said that a proactive approach in the Arrowhead can help prevent local kids from falling prey to the lure of traffickers. She suggested the development of more youth programs so kids have a safe place to spend time and keep busy under positive adult supervision. The most vulnerable kids, she said, are those who have been abused, neglected or marginalized in some way – homeless kids, runaways, LGBT youth, kids of racial or ethnic minority populations, and kids in foster care. This does not mean, however, that these are the crime’s only potential victims. It can happen to almost any child. Although there is no single solution to the problem of trafficking, Hilliard said that a good place to start is spreading the word about trafficking and encouraging people to speak up if they suspect that a child is being harmed.

“We are here to promote awareness and to get people to report what they witness,” she said.

Mayor Johnson said that she has met with task force members and has taken a special interest in the issue.

“I am passionate about this problem. I could not believe when I learned that there are more people in slavery today than during Lincoln’s time,” she said, adding that she plans to attend more meetings and become involved in being part of the solution to the issue.

Beaver Bay Mayor Kent Shamblin said that he adopted the proclamation prior the Tuesday meeting and that he was pleased to see the community turn out to hear Hilliard’s presentation.

“I am so impressed with the turn out on such a cold night. It is clear people want to get a handle on this problem”. Shamblin also asked that area residents be observant and report anything they feel is suspicious.