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Small towns not immune to sex trafficking

CROOKSTON, MN (WDAZ-TV) - The number of victims is growing at an alarming rate.

There was a 15% increase in reported sex trafficking cases in the United States. And our region is not immune.

A survivor is sharing her story to help create awareness of the growing problem.

America is known as the home of the free, but each year thousands of individuals across the United States, and even right here in the red river valley, are robbed of that freedom.

Monica Miller, victim of sex trafficking: "They say slavery was ended many years ago. No, it wasn't. Not for everybody."

More people are enslaved across the globe than at any other time in history, many of them victims of human trafficking. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center more than 4,100 people were trafficked for sex last year - about a dozen in North Dakota. At the age of 13, Monica Miller was one of them.

Miller: "I was pimped out down in Minneapolis for about two to three months before my Mom got me out of the life."

Miller was preyed upon in Minneapolis, but human trafficking is in no way confined to larger cities.

Kayta Zepeda, United Way of Crookston: "Where Crookston is located, you are right in their pathway. This is the pathway that the traffickers use to bring the girls. And it's not just girls."

A panel at the University of Minnesota-Crookston aimed to open the discussion about human trafficking, both globally and locally.

Miller: "Do you have runaways? Do you have youth? Do you have internet? Do you have cell phones? If you have that more than likely you have sexual exploitation happening in your community."

According to the U.S. State Department, few victims of human trafficking come forward. Because of this, the statistics of this crime are considered mere estimates. Miller warns, just because the stats make it seem this isn't happening in your community, doesn't mean that is the case.

Miller: "Maybe they aren't Identifying, maybe you don't know what the red flags are or maybe you don't know how to look for that. Just because you don't have the statistics, doesn't mean it's not happening."

The speakers hope that by opening up the conversation about human trafficking, they can open people's eyes to the issue. For Miller it is a difficult conversation to have, but an important one.

Miller: "There are times where it breaks me, and where it's very hard. If that means it's going to hurt a little, that's alright. I have a great support system so I'll dig deep and do what needs to happen because if I can help just one person get out of the life, to know that there's a better life for them and that their dreams can come true, then that's made all of this worth it."