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Group Works to End Sex Trafficking in Southeast Minnesota

Updated: 01/27/2014 10:45 PM
Created: 01/27/2014 9:31 PM KAALtv.com
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 News) -- One big issue facing the nation and the state of Minnesota is the issue of sex trafficking. A potential focus for President Obama during his State of the Union Address tomorrow. This week a $1 million grant was given to state agencies providing services to sex trafficking victims.

"I get calls to Albert Lea, I get calls to Austin and Pine Island,” said Stephanie Holt with Mission 21 in Rochester. She says sex trafficking is something every community deals with on some level. "The whole state really is lacking resources for the amount of kids that we know are being trafficked,” she said.

This week the Department of Human Services is giving $1 million to four organizations across the state, including Breaking Free, which provides services in Rochester. The funding will provide emergency shelters, transitional housing and support services for sex trafficked youth.

Of the four agencies receiving grant money, Mission 21 is not one of them. "I know that it seems like we all are competing for the same money that is rarely there, but we really are working in partnership,” said Holt.

“We need to take bigger steps,” said Olmsted County Attorney, Mark Ostrem. He’s working towards these same goals with the organizations, "We're seeing that across the national the movement is to finally uncover this and really take a serious look at the prevention piece and also the intervention piece for the victims,” said Ostrem.

Mission 21 says it actually didn't apply for the recent funding, rather it is applying to be a regional navigator for Southeast Minnesota.

"We would become the region's expert, we would figure out what resources we have in our region and where the gaps are,” said Holt.

Holt says Minnesota already is a leading state when it comes to cracking down on sex trafficking, but says there's always more to be done. "It's not just a metro problem, it's not just our city problem, it's everywhere, it's in every community,” she said.

U.S. Representative Erik Paulsen is introducing two bills in congress to combat sex trafficking. He and his guest, Breaking Free's executive director, will be at the State of the Union Address tomorrow. You can catch the address on ABC 6 News starting at 8 p.m. central time.