Created: 08/27/2014 11:17 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Minnesota has the 13th highest rate of sex trafficking for minors, and one local town has a plan to try to stop it.
Since January, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice have been working with dozens of business owners and community leaders in Albert Lea to diagnose the problem of human trafficking in the area.
During a sting earlier this month, police arrested four men for solicitation in Albert Lea, but they say that number could have been much higher.
"We conducted a sweep and identified four, however out of a two day operation, the first day we had 100 phone calls come in to possibly be a buyer in this, and the second day over 200,” said J.D. Carlson, deputy director of the Albert Lea Police Department.
On Wednesday, DOJ officials presented a series of recommendations on how best to tackle the problem.
They said one of the most important things a community can do is create a support network for victims to encourage them to break free from their perpetrators.
"When you do come across a victim, you need some seamless organizations to work together in helping that particular person,” said Dotti Honsey, a member of the Albert Lea Human Trafficking Task Force. “We need to be able to collaborate in looking at what’s in the best interest for that person."
Officials said because Albert Lea is at the crossroads of I-90 and I-35, the area may be a hotbed for human trafficking, saying it likely goes unnoticed with the high volume of people passing through.
Police officials said they want to train officers to recognize the subtle signs of possible human trafficking situations.
"I think my intent is moving forward to train our department, our officers, to be able to identify that at the forefront rather than afterwards,” Carlson said.
Minnesota's “Safe Harbor Law” recently took full effect, strengthening punishments for sex traffickers and treating exploited youth as victims, not criminals.
The law also created regional navigators to help those being exploited find shelter and other services.
Human trafficking affects an estimated 2.4 million people worldwide.