Mayor Don Ness on Wednesday declared January as Duluth Trafficking Awareness Month, kicking off a series of events across the city to raise awareness about girls being sold for sex.
Several recent reports have identified Duluth as a hub for sex trafficking and prostitution in Minnesota. One study interviewed about 100 Native American trafficking victims, more than half from Duluth. Ninety-eight percent of those interviewed were homeless at the time.
It's imperative to foster greater public awareness to address the problem, Ness said.
"It will never be addressed adequately unless and until we have the courage to talk about it openly, and to give voice to it being a problem," Ness said.
Victims' advocates also held a healing ceremony in honor of trafficking and prostitution survivors.
"I wish they could stand where I am, and how they would feel knowing there is this kind of community support for something they wish never happened, and that they are embarrassed about and feel that nobody cares," said St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, who is part of an effort in Duluth to develop a better response to trafficking of girls.
According to the Department of Justice, the average age of girls when they're first sold for sex is between 12 and 14.
Duluth law enforcement agencies and victims' advocates have formed a task force to reframe the issue as violence against women, instead of prostitution, and to create a coordinated response to trafficking.