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Baxter City Council: Month's events to raise trafficking awareness

Kate LePage of Lutheran Social Service and Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted present Tuesday to the Baxter City Council on local efforts against sex trafficking. Zach Kayser / Brainerd Dispatch

The Baxter City Council learned Tuesday of a host of sex trafficking-themed events coming this month in the Brainerd lakes area.

Kate LePage, Saving Grace case manager with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota in Brainerd, joined Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted to present at the city council meeting on efforts to fight sex trafficking in the area. The talk coincided with the month of January, Sex Trafficking Awareness Month.

For nearly three years, Exsted and his officers have focused on targeting sex trafficking, he said. Instrumental in those efforts was the creation of BLASTT, or the Brainerd Lakes Area Sex Trafficking Team: a partnership among advocates, case workers and the police.

"We probably average 25, 30 people at our meetings now," he said. "It's bigger than what we anticipated at the front end."

Exsted initially envisioned BLASTT as a group to support law enforcement once they encountered sex trafficking victims, but the group's mission shifted in recent months to advocacy and raising awareness, he said.

LePage listed upcoming events in January highlighting sex trafficking, including a a screening of the documentary film "I Am Jane Doe" at 2:30 and 6 p.m. Jan. 17 at Central Lakes College. The film, narrated by Jessica Chastain, depicts the attempts of mothers of trafficking victims to curb sex advertisements on websites such as Backpage, and their resulting conflict with the system.

On Jan. 18 at Franklin Arts Center, there will be a two-part public forum on sex trafficking in Minnesota: one part from 11 a.m. to noon on the demand for sex trafficking and the second half from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on sellers and victims.

From 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 24 at the YMCA, there will be a seminar on children internet safety, geared for both parents and youths.

Finally, Franklin Arts Center will host an art presentation featuring the works of Veronica C. Wanchena, a sex trafficking survivor. The event, titled "Art as Alchemy: Truth Liberates, Love Heals" will tell her story of survival as well as how she helped use art as self-therapy, to externalize what happened to her. The showing is noon to 4 p.m. Jan. 27, with Wanchena's talk from 1-2:30 p.m.

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