November 06, 2017 10:42 PM
Lakeisha Lee considers herself a protector, and she is on a mission in memory of her sister who was murdered.
Lee once had a strong relationship with her younger sister, Brittany Clardy, but that bond slowly weakened when she discovered Brittany was living a secret life of prostitution.
In 2013, Brittany Clardy was killed by Alberto Palmer in Brooklyn Park. Palmer had responded to Brittany's ad for sex on backpage.com.
"She was brutally murdered," Lee said. "She was only 17 years old, and we had no idea because she lived a sheltered life at home with us." Lee said her sister was nowhere to be found for nearly 10 days.
"We got a call from an impound lot in Columbia Heights," Lee said. "Someone found her car, but when we got there police told us to go home." Her frozen body was found wrapped in a sheet, hidden under the back seat of the vehicle.
Investigators traced evidence that led them to Palmer. His account of what happened to the teen was eventually shared with Lee and her family.
Marquita Clardy is Brittany's and Lakeisha's mother. She said Brittany was pressured into a life of prostitution by a controlling boyfriend who was later investigated but not charged.
"I felt something was wrong, but not knowing about this life and not knowing about what happens to these girls …" Marquita Clardy said. "I was shocked and my eyes are open now."
Her sister's death is what has spurred Lee to take to the streets herself, driving through Minneapolis and St. Paul on weekends in search of women and teenaged girls who are being trafficked. She reaches out to them in hopes they will see there is the chance to live a safe life. And it starts at a shelter named in honor of her late sister.
In Memory of Brittany
In 2014, Marquita Clardy and Lee channeled their grief into the creation of Brittany's Place on St. Paul's east side. It is a shelter of healing and looking forward so that victims of exploitation and sex trafficking can see that they have the power to turn their lives around. The shelter offers health screenings, counseling and, most importantly, a chance for the young women to rebuild their lives.
Sarah Florman is a senior program manager at Brittany's Place, which also offers trauma-informed care for the girls.
"We have had girls as young as 11 and 12 years old," Florman said. "Most people don't know about this issue -- these are not girls that look that they are prowling the streets at night. They are not your typical streetwalking type of kid."
The private- and publicly-funded shelter exemplifies the state's shift in treating young women as victims instead of criminals.
"We work with girls from all over the state of Minnesota to offer services and basic needs," Florman said. "We have school on site, and we provide a lot of services to help them stabilize and find their next plan or their next path."
Lee has taken her mission from the streets to the shelter and now to the Super Bowl. She has joined an anti-sex trafficking campaign to increase sex-trafficking investigations and outreach leading up to the event.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi has joined Lee on the Super Bowl campaign.
Choi made sex trafficking investigations a top priority when he took office in 2011 and has since tripled arrests and prosecutions of johns who pay for sex.
"If we were to post an ad right now on the internet, within two minutes the phone would start ringing and it would ring and ring and ring all day long," Choi said.
The anti-trafficking committee launched advertising campaigns in October that will run all the way up until Super Bowl Sunday.
Those campaigns are designed to reduce the demand for sex trafficking, teach others to spot signs that women are being trafficked and help victims find the help they need.
Choi says there will be an increase in demand during the event, but added that there is bigger picture to take in account.
"I think we need to have some other conversations that are really critical about how to raise boys, and how is it that boys grow up to be men and believe that that is OK?"
In 2016, there were 230 victims of sex trafficking statewide, up from 95 the year before.
"This happens 365 days of the year, every day and every hour of the day and every minute," Choi said.
Lee will use the days leading up to the Feb. 4 kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium to further her mission and reach more victims in honor of Brittany.
"Who knew that this would happen to my sister and that this would happen to my life," Lee said. "But I'm here. We are here to save lives."
Updated: November 06, 2017 10:42 PM
Created: November 06, 2017 10:38 PM
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