Like so many of us, Adele Yorde heard the stories. Girls brought to the boats that visited our port of Duluth-Superior. Invited on board. The parties. The debauchery. How so few seemed to know about it. How even fewer thought anything of it.
Beefed-up, post-9 / 11 security — including fencing, guarded gates, and names on manifests to gain access inside — changed our docks but didn’t eliminate what was happening in our community. Sex trafficking and exploitation, especially of young and vulnerable Northland children and young adults, persists. Even today. And with the internet, it’s just as unseen and easy to dismiss as ever.
But not by Yorde, a communications professional for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, or others devoted to ending the preying. Because of the port’s ties to the trouble, Yorde got involved with the Duluth Trafficking Task Force, which was first created in 2010. Even though the port no longer is an epicenter, she stays involved because, she said, this is her community.
“And it really feels like the community is finally coming together around this issue,” Yorde said in an interview in advance of a declaration of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Duluth, a fifth such annual declaration here.
“And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we never see a 10th annual?” she continued. “We can all help end it. If you’re a parent or a teacher or a grandparent and you can have those conversations with kids about self-reliance so young women can grow up and not be reliant on someone else for their security. If we can start talking to young men, young teens, about [having] respect for young women and that everything from the telling of dirty jokes to going to strip clubs to hosting bachelor parties — all of that, really — degrades and minimizes a young woman’s dignity. It starts there. Is that trafficking? No. But allowing that to continue, that ‘boys will be boys,’ it’s just not OK.”
To help not only with awareness but with actually ending exploitation, the task force created a new website, EndItDuluth.org. All of us, like Yorde a part of this community, can treat the site as a guide, its launch as a call to action.
Kids are at risk, especially those who maybe have trouble making friends, whose home lives are unstable, who’ve experienced abuse, who are homeless, who are transgender or who share any other of a number of vulnerabilities that make them a target.
No one should be made to exchange sex acts for a place to stay or a bite to eat or to feed a drug addiction, to avoid a beating, or because they feel they have no other options. But that’s what’s happening. Here. In the Twin Ports. Even if unnoticed.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE