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Freedom Weekend shines light on human trafficking

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It's hard to believe, but here in Minnesota people are bought and sold. They work as prostitutes or as migrant, domestic or factory workers with little or no pay. They are our neighbors, friends and in some case even our children.

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According to the FBI, Minneapolis ranks 13 in the nation for high incidence for recruitment of minors into prostitution. That fact and other reasons led Ashley Stevens to get involved in anti-trafficking efforts.

"The brutal intimidation, coercion and barbaric acts involved in sex trafficking creates a pit in my stomach," said Stevens.

Stevens shares her passion with Adri Carlson and Janine Montgomey and together the three have worked to plan Freedom Weekend. The two day event, held Feb. 16 and 17, will focus on educating people about the problem and offer ways to get involved and help.

"We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that this horrific crime is happening in our own communities," said Stevens.

Each of the women has her own reasons for getting involved but all three are passionate about abolishing human trafficking in all its forms. Carlson said while the topic will be hard to digest at times, there is also a great deal of hope.

"This is a heavy topic but there are ways to get involved. There's so much hope," said Carlson.

Carlson will tell you that she got fired up about human trafficking while living in South Korea and working as a teacher. She saw signs advertising young women. Carlson said she later learned sex-trafficking was a worldwide problem.

When she returned to the United States, Carlson looked for ways to get involved in anti-trafficking efforts. She got involved with the Kingdom Justice group at Hosanna! Lutheran Church.

For Montgomery the issue is much more personal. Montgomery is a sex-trafficking survivor. She has since gone on to start a ministry called New Beginnings through International Outreach Church to stop trafficking and save other girls.

Carlson said so far people have shown a lot of interest in Freedom Weekend and she hopes they will get to impact thousands of people. Going forward the group hopes to make it an annual event.

The event will begin with the Freedom Forum from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville. The forum will feature a panel of experts that will discuss human trafficking on global and local scales. Additionally, a human trafficking victim will share their story of survival with the audience.

Freedom Weekend will continue with A Day in the Life of a Sex Trafficking Victim at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 17 at International Outreach Church, located on the north side of Destiny Church's Campus in Burnsville. The focus will be to give attendees an experience of what trafficked people live through.

The event will conclude with a showing of the documentary Nefarious, Merchants of Souls from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 18 at Community of Hope Church. The film exposes modern sex slavery and shows what efforts are being made to stop it. Stevens said watching the film inspired her to get involved in anti-human trafficking efforts.

"It's was so impactful," said Stevens.

She hopes the film will have a similar impact on others and inspire them to do something as well. All three events will include access to volunteer organizations and resources to get involved in anti-trafficking efforts.

In addition to the education efforts there will also be a few fundraising opportunities. Nic Stevens, an area musician and youth pastor at Community of Hope, has written a song to help support anti-trafficking organizations. The song is called "See with Open Eyes" and is available at www.nicstevens.com.

Also, artist Nancy Rich has donated several paintings to be sold and again the money will go to anti-trafficking organizations.

For more information or to register visit www.freedomweekendmn.com. Registration is not required.

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Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
(651) 460-6606
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