November 07, 2017 07:23 PM
Desiree DeLao is a beautiful, hardworking young woman. She and her husband are raising their children in the suburbs of Minneapolis.
She has dreams for their futures and hopes to overcome dark memories from her past.
DeLao is a former prostitute who worked alone, without a pimp. She set her own prices for sexual services and often worked the entire day to pay her bills.
"I posted ads on backage.com, and I definitely went on more than one half-an-hour calls every single day," DeLao said. "They were mostly white men from everywhere like St. Croix, Brooklyn Park and Edina. They want to pay for special requests I can't even tell you about."
DeLao says the life of a prostitute is full of uncertainty, and that she sometimes feared for her life.
"It kind of hit home for me, being pregnant with a little girl," DeLao said. "That's when I got out and I knew each day could have been my last."
Beth Holger-Ambrose, executive director of The Link, understands the dangers DeLao faced.
"We obviously are a service provider to build the awareness that sex trafficking happens 365 days a year," she said.
According to The Link, an organization that works with youth and families to overcome the impacts of poverty and social injustice, there are four Safe Harbor programs that provide housing and services to youth who are victims of sexual exploitation.
The Link offers nine housing programs: seven for youth, one for young families and one for youth that self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
"There has been a huge shift, and that has to do with the passage of the Safe Harbor Law," Holger-Ambrose said. "The next step is to push for Safe Harbor for all."
That law, implemented in Minnesota and used as a blueprint nationwide, views youth who engage in prostitution as victims and survivors, rather than as criminals.
Every year, The Link serves more than 90 trafficked youth. Holger-Ambrose said the organization plans to ramp up an anti-trafficking campaign in the days leading up to Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The campaign, titled "I Am Priceless," hopes to prevent youth from becoming sexually exploited. The message will be visible on bus shelters and in radio ads. A mural with the message: "My body is not for sale" is planned for downtown Minneapolis.
"I think what's really great is that a part of the packaging was all designed by youth who have experienced sex trafficking, and will resonate well for those who are risk or who have been sex trafficked," Holger-Ambrose said.
Updated: November 07, 2017 07:23 PM
Created: November 07, 2017 07:19 PM
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