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Child sexual exploitation happens - Events addressing prevention set

"My Neighbor Is Not For Sale" booklets will be handed out during the first Cherish All Children, a faith community discussion on the prevention of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, event scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22 at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd.

The hard reality is child sexual exploitation and human trafficking happens across Minnesota and in our own backyard in the Brainerd lakes area.

Education is one of the first steps in addressing the issue and is the main message of an organization called Cherish All Children—a ministry that equips church congregations with the tools to prevent child sexual exploitation.

Cherish All Children, Lutheran Social Services and First Lutheran Church in Brainerd have teamed up to host a four-part series to have a faith community discussion on the prevention of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The series includes four topics to be discussed over a four-week period on Mondays. The first discussion is titled "What is Sexual Exploitation" and will be presented by the Rev. John Stiles of First Lutheran Church and Joy McElroy, executive director of Cherish All Children. The discussion is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22, at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd.

Other topics to be discussed in the series include:

  • Oct. 29 - "Safe Harbor: Support for Survivors," with Kate LePage, LSS.
  • Nov. 5 - "Ending Demand: Raising Healthy Boys & Men," with Stiles, First Lutheran Church.
  • Nov. 12 - "A Call To Action," with McElroy and Community Forum with panel discussion. Panel members include Don Ryan, county attorney; Janine LePage, criminal sex prosecuting attorney for Crow Wing County; Jim Exsted, Baxter Police chief; Krista Jones, manager of corrections (probation); Ronda Kline, family services supervisor (child protection/social work); and Kate LePage, LSS.

The events are free and open to the public.

McElroy, who also authored a booklet/guide titled "My Neighbor Is Not For Sale," said the purpose of the four-part series is to bring the community together to be a part of these discussions.

"In these discussions, we will learn what we can do in our everyday lives to keep our own children and youth safe," McElroy said. "Education really is the first step in prevention efforts. Cherish All Children works with churches to educate and engage them in prevention of child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. We wrote this guide for congregations to have as a tool to bring us into their churches to really spread the message of prevention to families and youth and engage the community to be a part of the solution."

McElroy said the St. Paul-based ministry services the entire state of Minnesota, in supporting churches to host these events. Cherish All Children has been around for 11 years, but has merged with LSS in the past year to help promote education on the issue and to share the booklet.

"This is so important because many of us don't want to think or want to believe this is happening in our communities," McElroy said. But the hard realities is sex exploitation and trafficking happens across Minnesota and in the Brainerd lakes area.

"We are stressing the importance of families to be a part of these conversations to learn what they can do in their own household to support their youth," McElroy said.

Clarice Renschler, a member of First Lutheran Church who helped organize the discussions, said after hearing two women from LSS at a Lutheran church synod in Grand Rapids she became interested in helping spread the word about what people can do to help prevent child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Renschler attended several other events where she heard from law enforcement and a group called Trust, Report, United Together for Hope 911 of Nisswa—or TRUTH 911 for short. TRUTH 911's mission is to unite the community as a protective force against the trafficking of children.

Renschler said she then got involved with Rising Hope, a nonprofit organization created in 2013 with the goal to help trafficking victims heal and get back into society. Part of the organization's goal is to provide housing where girls rescued from the enslavement of human trafficking can begin healing with the help of counselors, educators and health care professionals in a safe environment.

Renschler said she spoke to several Lutheran churches in the area in donating money to help with the building project. She said they raised $5,000 for Rising Hope.

Renschler, who has three daughters herself, is passionate about being involved with educating people on child sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

"This is happening in Brainerd and has been happening for years," Renschler said. "I want to be involved in this to help."

According to statement made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Commercial Sexual Exploitation: "Prostitution, pornography, and stripping are indeed huge and profitable businesses. People in the United States spend more on pornography than on movie tickets or on all the performing arts combined. The low estimate of $10 billion paid for pornography annually makes it a bigger business than professional football, basketball, and baseball put together."

For more information on the four-part series of events, call First Lutheran Church at 218-829-9552. The event is sponsored by Thrivent Financial and Lutheran Social Service.

US child maltreatment statistics

Numbers from the American Society for the Positive Care of Children include:

  • 4.1 million child maltreatment referral reports received.
  • Child abuse reports involved 7.4 million children.
  • 3.5 million children received prevention and post-response services.
  • 143,866 children received foster care services.
  • 74.8 percent of victims are neglected.
  • 18.2 percent of victims are physically abused.
  • 8.5 percent of victims are sexually abused.
  • 6.9 percent of victims are psychologically maltreated.
  • Highest rate of child abuse in children under age 1 (24.8 percent per 1,000).
  • Over one-quarter of victims are younger than 3.
  • Annual estimate: 1,750 children died from abuse and neglect in 2016.
  • Almost five children die every day from child abuse.
  • 78 percent of child fatalities involve at least one parent.
  • 70 percent of child fatalities are under the age of 3.
  • 74.6 percent of the child abuse victims die from neglect.
  • 44.2 percent of the child abuse victims die from physical abuse.
  • 49.4 percent of children who die from child abuse are younger than age 1.
  • Almost 60,000 children are sexually abused.
  • More than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator.


Trafficking is child abuse, and the vulnerable are often targeted.

Human trafficking is a public health issue that impacts individuals, families and communities. Traffickers disproportionately target at-risk populations, including individuals who have experienced or been exposed to other forms of violence (child abuse and maltreatment, interpersonal violence and sexual assault, community and gang violence) and individuals disconnected from stable support networks (runaway and homeless youths, unaccompanied minors, persons displaced during natural disasters);

Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or solicitation of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age;

Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

(Source: American Society for the Positive Care of Children)