Trafficked: Searching for solutions in the Northland

Category: In The News
Published: Thursday, 15 January 2015
Written by Admin

Trafficking is a problem that often is clandestine and left to the shadows; now the hunt for solutions was taking place after dark, too.

A couple of the group's members are nonprofit professionals; the rest are community members. They convened on Jan. 5 for a monthly meeting of a group called MAST -- Men Against Sex Trafficking.

They met for more than an hour. Their discussion was like a campfire between them, lively and warm. They wondered aloud how they could bring the faith communities further into the fold. They discussed the diminishing returns of male promiscuity and described it as a trail of conquests leading to nowhere. They talked about real partnership with a woman and called it true love.       

Human trafficking in the North Dakota oil fields, the topic of a Forum News Service series published in the News Tribune during the past week, helped to fuel their discussion. The series was important, timely and provocative, they agreed. But the oil fields and their "man camps" in North Dakota aren't alone in the practice of trafficking girls and women for sex.

"We're feeding them our girls from Duluth," Fletcher Hinds, one member of the group, told the News Tribune.

The men in MAST could be considered progressive for the way the sins of their gender weigh on them. In a modern world lit with sexual imagery and references and supportive of a pornography industry to the tune of billions of dollars annually, the men in the small room seem rebellious in their unwillingness to accept the current norm.   

"I don't know why we're so gross or how we ever got this way," said Al Nyquist, one man who won't accept "it is what it is" for an answer.

To hear members of the group and other community leaders --with law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations and the county's public health and human services -- tell it, human trafficking isn't a "somewhere else" problem. It's a Duluth problem.

Its "tracks," where prostitution remains out in the open, can taunt police when they observe a pimp and his car drive around a single block all day long, as officers try to build a trafficking case that evolves slowly and requires meticulous investigation. Human trafficking and its abuses have spurred local child protection workers in new directions and led the superintendent of the Duluth school district to tell a crowd last week that it's incumbent on his and other districts to infuse their children with "a strong sense of self and self-worth."

Nobody working within the orbit of the problem seems content anymore to see Northland girls and women thrown into the maw of human trafficking, and to not step up to address the problem.

A proclamation

Earlier in the day on Jan. 5, the auditorium at Trepanier Hall on West Second Street filled with people. The crowd was larger than expected, and even as Mayor Don Ness read aloud the proclamation announcing January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Duluth, there were people unfolding a new row of chairs.    

As the mayor read, "Whereas, to prevent the future violation of our citizens, it is imperative that we foster greater public awareness ...," the others on stage with him braced to deliver their short speeches. They were a mostly fidgety lot, used to working behind the scenes and not in front of a microphone. Still, their speeches were impassioned and each received supportive applause. They touched on different aspects of human trafficking --a matrix of deviousness that incorporates drugs, abuse and other criminal activity into a mix with seemingly law-abiding fathers and husbands as johns whose first remarks upon police interrogation universally are, Duluth police officer Kim Wick said, "My wife is going to kill me."

Nigel Perrote is the trafficking program regional navigator for Duluth's rape-crisis center, PAVSA (Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault). He arranged the lineup of speakers that supported the mayor's proclamation address.

Trafficking in Duluth doesn't look like what it used to, Perrote explained. The days when females sailed in or disappeared through the port on ships are mostly over, he said.

"That's dropped off since 9/11," Perrote said. "The new people coming into our doors haven't had that experience."

The maritime trafficking has given way to a more domesticated form of trafficking that Perrote said is no less traumatic or criminal. He cited sting operations in Superior and Cloquet in recent years that rounded up several johns after law enforcement officers courted the men by disguising themselves as prostitutes online. Perrote said it's in this way, and others, that trafficking victims --including a disproportionate number of Native Americans, as well as young members of the especially vulnerable gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities --are coming to PAVSA and other shelters in Duluth.

When asked to put a number to the problem, Perrote said he knows of about 50 runaways currently on file in Duluth.

"Half of them are at risk of being trafficked," he said.

Police work

Wick, a Duluth police investigator who specializes in runaways, human trafficking and missing people, corroborated Perrote's statistics.

"Absolutely," she said. "I don't know if we have 50 runaways at one time, but what I'll tell you is that one of the ways I go after the criminals I go after is by watching the runaways."

Wick opened and quickly closed a file cabinet near her desk as a way to illustrate the problem. A glimpse inside revealed about two dozen to three dozen files assigned to specific children in the community who have run away and are at high risk for human trafficking.

Wick explained the game pimps will play with runaways. Statistically, she said, a runaway encounters prostitution circles within 48-72 hours of leaving home, and 1 in 3 runaways is lured into prostitution. Cunning pimps in disguise as "Mr. Wonderful" are skilled at locating runaway children and other vulnerable people in places such as malls and offering them a lush life of partying, gifts and free shelter -- with no mention at first of sex. Pimps even will encourage them to return home to test their budding relationship with the vulnerable child. Subsequent runaway attempts grow longer and longer until the pimp has his hooks in the child and suddenly won't let them go home again. The children, Wick warned, fit no stereotype. She has met sons and daughters of lawyers and doctors in the human trafficking trade.     

Recurrent runaway attempts, a previous history of abuse and associations to other known victims are the toxic combination of markers that make for a child who is ripe for exploitation, Wick said. The dozens of files in her cabinet all fit that bill.

"These are children who, most of the time, have been traumatized already," she said. "They're already ripe for one of these pimps to find them."

Wick's clarity for the work came into focus in 2011-12, when she tracked a pair of runaway girls for months. A police department co-worker told her she ought to talk with an FBI agent who'd been investigating a now-34-year-old pimp named Markeace Canty.

Wick met the agent.

"We were on the same case, coming from opposite ends," she said.

From that point, they shared an investigation that led to Canty being convicted and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for the sex trafficking of a child. Canty and an accomplice trafficked a 17-year-old girl for "his own personal enrichment," US Attorney Andrew Luger said at sentencing last August. The investigation revealed that Canty had prostituted the girl throughout five states. He used online ads and hotels, including rooms in Duluth.     

A new lens

Safe Harbor laws that began in Minnesota in 2011 have made it so "Minnesota youth who engage in prostitution are viewed as victims and survivors, not criminals," the Minnesota Department of Health states on its website. Nonprofit agencies, shelters, police and others are coming together under the mantle of No Wrong Door, meaning victims who reach these entities are provided "trauma-informed services and safe housing."  

Children once treated as delinquents are now afforded dignity in what amounts to a paradigm shift. Exploitation that had once been commonly overlooked or misidentified is being met with fresh sets of eyes.

It's a revelation that's happening across the country, said Mark Wilhelmson, the supervisor in southern St. Louis County's Initial Intervention Unit, which is a first-responder for child protective services. Wilhelmson cited work done in Connecticut, New York City and other places as he explained what has been a critical shift.

It was a sex trafficking conference in Washington, DC, he attended in 2013 that opened his eyes.

"What's striking to me is a very high percentage of those kids had been involved in the child welfare system; over 80 percent confirmed trafficked had been involved with child welfare. It's just amazing, like 'Wow,' " Wilhelmson said. "As I learned more it made more sense; they come from serious child neglect and sexual abuse. That is not surprising."

Wick and Wilhelmson both say runaways are hardly the only ones being exploited. Children in residential treatment programs and foster care make good targets for pimps whose eyes are keen to vulnerabilities.

Ultimately, Wilhelmson explained, the pimp is offering what amounts to conditional love --victims' needs are met provided they give up their bodies. It's important then that the system meets the victims with unconditional love, he said. It explained why investigators with child protection and the police are now less eager to press victims for information right away; they are sensitive to becoming just the latest person who wants something from the victims.   

"If you have kids entering this when they're 12, 13, 14 years old as an average, that means you have 10-year-olds coming into it, too," he said. "These are people being victimized, enslaved in a kind of way."

There is another paradigm shift needed, he and Wick agree, in the realm of public opinion. They said the idea that prostitution is a choice for children and even for women -- many of whom were introduced to it as children -- is a fallacy.

"The public has this idea that it's a 'Pretty Woman' thing and that it's a choice," Wick said. "But everything we do now is victim-led."   


If public opinion about human trafficking and prostitution hasn't caught up with expert opinion, then Fletcher Hinds is among the early ones riding the wave of change.

He talked to the News Tribune the morning after the Men Against Sex Trafficking meeting that he attends regularly.

Every November when the rainy season in Cambodia is over, the 66-year-old former Marine and retired St. Louis County child protection worker travels there with his wife, Joan, as representatives of Minnesota Veterans for Progress. It's an organization that conducts humanitarian projects throughout southeast Asia.

Hinds fought in neighboring Vietnam for a tour in 1969. He and his wife go to help rural villages; they've put in rice patties and gardens to assist a country that remains under dictatorship and sees plenty of its girls exported into the international human trafficking trade, many of them never to be heard from by their families again.

Part of what Hinds and his wife are doing now is working to get up and running a sewing center that will provide growing girls with a marketable skill that can dissuade them from falling victim to the sales pitches of pimps.

"We want to give these women hope," he said of a plan to train 25 girls and women to sew so that they can train 25 more and so on.

The words of Hinds' former colleague in social work, Wilhelmson -- "the best thing we can do to prevent kids from getting into this life is to offer them something else" -- echo when Hinds explained his mission.  

It's an annual act of "reconciliation," he called it.

"I was in the bush, in the infantry, and they'd actually bring prostitutes on motor scooters out into the bush," he said of his Vietnam experience. "Back in the rear there were brothels here and there in little villages. Men in combat buy their women. Most men don't talk about it."

He readily admitted to visiting strip clubs as a younger man, and he recalled them as "joyless" places. He is deeply in love with his wife, and together they share what he calls true partnership.

"The demand problem wouldn't exist if men didn't participate," he said. "The whole industry is built on men participating financially. We're the problem."

The participation isn't simply a matter of impaired judgment, either. Wick explained that in every sting she's been a part of, she has never once arrested a john who was inebriated. It's not something that surprises Hinds.

"Deep down we feel superior to women --that we can have access to women," Hinds said. "A lot of men won't admit that sense of entitlement. But the thinking is, 'If we can pay for it and get it, that's fine.' That part of the male psyche is really part of the problem."


Learn more about Men Against Sex Trafficking (MAST) at its website:

Read more about human trafficking in the Upper Midwest at the Forum News Services Trafficked project website:

Tragedy or transportation, journalists should report the news in simple ...

Category: In The News
Published: Thursday, 15 January 2015
Written by Admin

We all sometimes resort to euphemism or other indirect language in everyday life, often to tiptoe around a topic. But that's a problem for journalists.

While features such as in-depth profiles or narratives can benefit from a writerly hand, current events are usually best conveyed simply, if not bluntly.

That's especially true when reporting on mishap and tragedy. Accidents, crime and other misfortune have real-world effects on human lives, and it can feel subjectively inappropriate if news reports are florid or overly literary.

That's why "spot news" reporting is generally dry. A car crashed. A worker fell. A suspect was arrested.

Readers often question that directness, particularly when it comes to death.

"Why did you have to just write that this person 'died?'" asked one caller after reading a recent news obituary. "I think (the deceased's) family would appreciate if you would write that he 'passed away.'"

That impulse is laudable and understandable, but The Star follows The Associated Press Stylebook, whose entry on the word "die" reads: "Dont use euphemisms like passed on or passed away except in a direct quote."

Euphemism is also used often in the business world to make products and services seem customer-friendly. One prominent example in the news recently comes from the controversy over Uber and Lyft.

These companies' business model is to recruit drivers to use their own cars to pick up passengers, using smartphone apps and GPS technology to bypass traditional taxi services.

But they don't call themselves taxi or cab companies, presumably because many of their drivers also utilize their vehicles as their own primary transportation. Instead, they often use terms such as "ride-sharing" to describe their services -- which they charge fees for.

They have encountered opposition from taxicab operators who don't like the competition, and from government regulators and other officials concerned about their safety practices and insurance liability -- both understandably.

Yes, Uber and Lyft's services can be cheaper than a taxicab. But their fares are calculated dynamically according to the time of day and weather conditions, and can be dramatically more expensive than traditional cabs during "surge" times when demand is high and supply is low.

"The Star should stop referring to Uber and Lyft as 'ride-sharing' services, which they are not," one reader emailed recently. "They are taxi dispatchers. They have nothing to do with sharing rides."

His point is exactly right. If Uber and Lyft offer "ride-sharing" service, then McDonald's is a "hambuger-sharing" service.

I was glad that The Associated Press issued this new rule just last week, then: "Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft let people use smartphone apps to book and pay for a private car service or in some cases, a taxi. They may also be called ride-booking services. Do not use ride-sharing."

Leave the marketing slogans to the advertising departments. Journalists should describe waddling, quacking waterfowl as ducks.

Facebook Buys QuickFire to Compete with YouTube - Stocks in the News

Category: In The News
Published: Wednesday, 14 January 2015
Written by Admin

Many online video sites primarily source their income through advertising. Perhaps the best example of this is YouTube, the online video viewing platform which is owned by Google ( GOOG ). There are ads on the homepage, ads which are often viewed before a video can start, and even ads next to the videos.

This is not news to most people, as YouTube is a site that garners a following of well over a billion people watching videos every month. As a matter of fact, these viewers worldwide watch over six billion hours of videos on YouTube every month . That is a lot of advertising which results in billions of revenue made on YouTube, which goes right into Googles pocket. A very deep pocket, to say the least.

As reported by , analysts such as Jefferies analyst Brian Pitz estimated YouTubes valuation at $26 billion to $40 billion, based on Googles market cap. This is not very surprising when you factor in the fact that reports that YouTube will bring in about $5.60 billion in gross ad revenues this year (2014), according to eMarketers first-ever analysis of how much advertisers spend on the platform.

Step Aside, YouTube

YouTubes happy revenue days could be under threat, as Facebook ( FB ) looks to eat into the video world that Google has successfully monetized in recent years. In an attempt to become a bigger player in this market, Facebook has recently bought QuickFire Networks, a video transcoding service.

Like YouTube, it allows for Facebook users to post videos directly to the website. It differs from YouTube in key ways though. On its website, QuickFire says that the state of the infrastructure for online video viewing as it stands today is not sufficient. says that it solves this capacity problem via proprietary technology that dramatically reduces the bandwidth needed to view video online without degrading video quality.

This means that Facebook has acquired a company which potentially gives it a leg up in the video battle, hitting back hard at one of YouTubes key strengths. It also helps that Facebook now garners a following which watches over one billion videos every day, according to QuickFires website.

Thus, if Facebook can leverage its latest acquisition, the company can certainly improve its advertising revenues and page views. And with Facebook users increasing their uploads to the worlds largest social networking site to the tune of 75% last year, this has to be a huge area for FB growth in the coming years.

The real key though is if FB can become a top destination for videos to the point that it can rival YouTube. Obviously this will be a difficult task, but the QuickFire purchase definitely pushes the company further to that goal.

First Name Basis

The real advantage of videos on Facebook is the companys targeted ad network. After all, advertisers care about quality rather than quantity and they are looking to put their products in front of their target markets. And with the wealth of user data available to advertisers on Facebook, companies could definitely be paying a premium to get their ads on a surging FB video platform.

For example, according to , Facebook is able to tell if someone sees an ad on Facebooks mobile app and then buys that product on their laptop. Relaying critical data like this to advertisers is very important, as it identifies popular buying methods, interests, and trendy places to market for more efficient targeting and market segmentation.

Viewers of ads on YouTube, however, are not faced with as linked nor as sophisticated an advertising strategy. This potentially makes FB a great video advertising destination should it be able to continue to grow its video upload totals and effectively compete with YouTube.

Bottom Line

Internet ad revenue is a multi-billion dollar capital building tool which is experiencing unprecedented growth, with no end to that growth in sight. An especially lucrative platform to display advertising is through online videos. The primary revenue builder for this type of platform is YouTube.

However, Facebook has recently acquired a company which allows its users to post videos at a faster rate, without compensating video quality. This is an especially helpful pickup because the amount of videos being uploaded to Facebook by users has increased dramatically in the past year.

The fact that Facebook has a more intricate system for helping advertisers advertise more effectively makes it a more attractive platform to them. For this reason, they are likely willing to pay Facebook more money for video advertising than Google. With all these positive stats complementing each other, Facebook is set to launch itself to the top by increasing its advertising revenues after this acquisition of QuickFire Networks.

Currently, FB is a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stock, though it has seen amazing earnings growth over the past few years. This latest purchase could really help to move the needle on video though, so we should watch earnings estimate revisions in the coming days to see if analysts believe that this latest move will keep FB going in the right direction.

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BeCAUSE They Care: Nonprofits in the news

Category: In The News
Published: Tuesday, 13 January 2015
Written by Admin

Healthcare Network of SWFL to build pediatric clinic

Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida will partner with the Greater Naples YMCA to build a pediatric clinic on the Y's new Healthy Living Campus. The state-of-the art clinic will open sometime in 2015 and will provide an all-inclusive system of care for Collier County children.

At the new 5,400-square-foot pediatric clinic, doctors and medical staff from Healthcare Network will work with wellness and education professionals at the YMCA to provide high quality health and nutrition programs to infants, toddlers, preschool and kindergarten children enrolled at the Y childcare center, as well as to those participating in youth programs and teen development. Healthcare Network will deliver primary and behavioral health services to patients of the clinic, which will be open to all children in the community and to breastfeeding moms needing outpatient lactation services. Dental and vision care will also be available via the Healthcare Network's Care Mobile Program.

Heading up the clinic will be Healthcare Network's Dr. C. Todd Vedder, a Naples pediatrician and founder of the Safe amp; Healthy Children's Coalition of Collier County.

Healthcare Network and the YMCA are also exploring a partnership with The Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida to bring physical and occupational therapy, as well as other specialized health services, to the pediatric clinic. Promising practices in children's mental health, like Healthcare Network's integrated behavioral care program, will round-out the clinic's scope of services helping to build a fully inclusive, organized system of care.

Funds are currently being raised to build-out the pediatric clinic at the YMCA and naming opportunities are available.

Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida is a private not-for-profit organization providing primary medical and dental care to our community since 1977. For information, visit

Dyke to receive American Cancer Society "Legacy Award"

Dr. Valerie Dyke, a specialist in colorectal cancer and a passionate volunteer and cancer educator will receive the 2015 Legacy Award from the American Cancer Society. She will be presented the award at the 2015 Cattle Barons' Ball on Friday.

Dyke, a specialist at the Colorectal Institute, is involved in numerous community health outreach programs. She provides free cancer screenings at the annual Omega Fraternity "Family Health Forum" at Dunbar High School, helps coordinate the "Scope for Hope" 5K fundraiser, presents talks and lectures free of charge for the community, and was the chair of the 2014 Powerful Women, Powerful Choices Women's Cancer Forum.

Dyke is board-certified in general surgery and colon and rectal surgery.

Scanlon Auto supports local events and nonprofits

Scanlon Auto Group will support a number of charitable events during January 2015.

On Saturday, Scanlon Auto will serve as a Rustler Sponsor for the 2015 American Cancer Society of Lee County's Cattle Barons' Ball at Top Rocker Field, Six Bends Harley-Davidson in Fort Myers.

On Sunday, Jan. 25, the auto dealer will sponsor a hole-in-one contest for the The Club at Grandezza's United Way Golf Classic benefiting the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties.

On Thursday, Jan. 29, Scanlon Auto will sponsor a hole-in-one contest for the Third Annual Team Fox "Swing For The Cure" Golf Tournament at Plantation Golf and Country Club benefiting Team Fox For Parkinson's Research.

On Saturday, Jan. 31, Scanlon Auto will sponsor Symphonic Chorale's Jet Set Soiree, "Music, Merlot amp; Moonlight" with Carlton Ford at the Forest Country Club benefiting the Symphonic Chorale's Gift to the Community campaign.

"Scanlon Auto has always supported a wide variety of charitable endeavors and community events," said Jay Scanlon, vice president of Scanlon Auto. "Southwest Florida has been very good to us and, we want this community to thrive so that others can pursue their dreams here."

Lamaine awarded Rotary Club's highest honor

The Rotary Club of Bonita Springs Noon awarded its highest honor, a Paul Harris Award from The Rotary Foundation, to Teri Lamaine for her exemplary volunteerism and community spirit.

Rotary Club member and Assistant District Governor Rick L. Perry presented Lamaine with the award.

"Teri is a passionate and dedicated community volunteer with a big heart for many charities in Bonita Springs and Naples," said Perry.

Two children's centers get reaccreditation

The Community Children's Center in Lehigh Acres and the Children's Garden of LaBelle, two of six Child Care of Southwest Florida centers in Lee and Hendry counties, have been reaccredited by the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs. Reaccreditation documents that the centers continue to provide high-quality services in six areas: family engagement, health and safety, curriculum, interactions between teachers and children, classroom environments and administrative standards.

NAC accreditation improves programs for children, promotes staff professionalism and provides parents with a way to identify programs that exceed minimum standards. Reaccreditation is for a three-year period; during that time, centers must submit annual reports, and the commission can make announced visits to evaluate programs.

For information, visit

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