Human trafficking in Minnesota


“I got my life back, that is why I’m standing up, to put a face on the story” began Bukola Oriola, who was a journalist in Nigeria before marrying a United States citizen, a family friend from Nigeria. After they were married, they moved to Minnesota. Then, Bukola says, her husband “changed from someone very gentle and kind to someone I’d never met.” Bukola was not allowed to see neighbors or form relationships. Her husband forced her to work 14 hours a day braiding hair, without pay, even when she was pregnant. After the birth of their child, her husband often threatened to divorce and report her to immigration officials. Her son, as a U.S. citizen, would stay in the country. 

With no one to turn to and the constant threat of being separated from her child, Bukola began to confide in the public health nurse who was sent to her house during her pregnancy. After one year of reaching out to the nurse Bukola was given the support she needed and was able to flee the house to a battered women’s shelter. From there, she was referred to Civil Society. Civil Society helped Bukola understand her rights as an immigrant, secure a visa, and begin the process of bringing charges against her ex-husband. Bukola presented her story at Civil Society’s  Human Trafficking Watch and Minnesota Rescue and Restore Quarterly Meeting on November 17.


Resources to combat trafficking, help for women and girls

Civil Society has a human trafficking crisis/tip line (24/7) 1-888-772-3324 or 651-291-8810

TeenPRIDE has a 24 hour crisis line: 612-728-2062, or call toll-free at 1-888-PRIDE-9.

Youthline programming

Family and Children’s Service: PRIDE

Breaking Free is a non-profit organization serving women and girls involved in systems of abuse, exploitation, prostitution, and sex-trafficking.

Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) is a non-profit organization that provides a comprehensive set of gender and culturally based services for American Indian women and their families.

Girls Educational and Mentoring Service GEMS is the nation’s largest organization offering direct services to American victims of child sex trafficking, GEMS serves girls and young women, ages 12-21, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the sex industry.

Girls Are Not For Sale Campaign


More information

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center recently issued a report on sexual trafficking in the Native American Community, Shattered Hearts.

For statistics on human trafficking in Minnesota see the 2008 Human Trafficking Report to the Minnesota Legislature

Imprisoned: The travails of a trafficked victim by Bukola Oriola

View the documentary Very Young Girls. This documentary is also available on Netflix instant download.


Other articles about human trafficking in Minnesota

Star Tribune: Report finds gap in sex trafficking enforcement and Immigration officials target 14 US cities in campaign against human trafficking

Minnesota Daily: Human trafficking drives victims to shackles and Organization seeks end to human trafficking

St. Paul Pioneer Press: Turning the tide on child prostitution

Minnesota Women’s Press: Real people, real names: Prostitution and trafficking in Minnesota

Minnesota Spokesman- Recorder: Child prostitution not a victimless crime

Bukola’s story is an all-too-common example of human trafficking in Minnesota. Linda Miller of Civil Society said that because of a large immigrant population, northern ports, and a long border with Canada, Minnesota has become one of the areas most heavily targeted as a spot for labor and sexual trafficking. For more than ten years, Civil Society has helped people, especially in immigrant communities, understand and use their legal rights. They have partnerships with several organizations and have become the number one service to which community organizations referred victims of human trafficking for legal support and advice about their trafficking experiences.

Human trafficking laws encompass both labor trafficking, like Bukola’s story, and sexual trafficking, which is when a victim is forced to perform sexual acts. Both forms of trafficking are signaled by some form of physical, mental, or sexual abuse, and some form of coercion, whether it is force or fraud. Many trafficking stories begin with broken promises, promises of money and jobs, of citizenship, or love and protection. An important signal that someone is a trafficking victim is isolation, as traffickers rarely allow victims to form relationships with neighbors or friends.

On November 19, Youthline, in partnership with Family and Children’s Service’s TeenPRIDE program held a fundraiser entitled “Girls Are Not For Sale,” in an effort to increase awareness of sexual trafficking of young women and girls and to increase support for their programs that focus on healthy activities for children and young adults.

At the fundraiser, the movie Very Young Girls was shown, a documentary about the sexual trafficking industry in New York City and how one non-profit organization, GEMS is seeking to help young girls break away from the life of sexual trafficking. Although GEMS focuses on New York City-based trafficking, Youthline and Family and Children’s Services confront the problem here when working with young adults, especially girls, and their experiences with sexual trafficking.

“Don’t look at it as an African-American girl problem, it is an American Indian girl problem with isolation on reservations, it is a Latino girl problem with immigration issues, it is a European girl problem when they are being targeted on the internet, it is a East African, a West African girl problem…” Artika Roller from Family and Children’s Services told the crowd.

Roller also explained that current dangers for young girls and children come from the Internet where traffickers use CraigsList and social networking sites to lure in victims. The program ended with a poem presented by a Youthline participant, who spoke of experiences with sexual trafficking. Awareness was the word of the evening at the “Girls Are Not For Sale” event, but the fundraising also focused on the ways community programs, such as Youthline and TeenPRIDE, can help prevent girls and young adults from becoming victims of sex trafficking.

As Very Young Girls shows, sex trafficking of young girls often begins when the girls are alone, such as on the Internet or walking/hanging out in their neighborhood. The girls targeted are often vulnerable and have self-esteem problems. They are young: the average age of entry in sex trafficking is 12-14. Community programs such as Youthline, which focuses on providing healthy out of school activities and on teaching self-esteem and how to form strong relationships and TeenPRIDE, a division of Family and Children’s Service PRIDE (PRostitution to Independence, Dignity and Equality) program, which is a support for young women at risk of being sexually exploited, can help prevent young girls from being trafficked and provide resources for those at risk.

In the past four years Minnesota has worked to combat labor and sexual trafficking in the state. In 2005 State Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Kathy Tingelstad (R- Andover) authored legislation that created felony labor and sex trafficking offenses as well as creating a defense for prostitution that allows defendants to claim they are victims labor and sex trafficking.

Other federal and state laws, including the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, have helped in the fight against human trafficking. Laws now say a victim cannot consent to being trafficked and provide visas for victims to stay in the country in order to testify against their traffickers. Also, a prosecutor no longer has to prove physical coercion, but can successfully claim a victim was forced into trafficking through coercion or mental abuse and distress.

The main obstacles in reducing labor and sex trafficking in Minnesota and in the United States are getting victims of trafficking to come forward and training law enforcement, medical and service providers, school personnel, community members and clergy to recognize the signs of trafficking. Civil Society has recently set up a human trafficking hotline in order to confront this part of the problem. The Civil Society Human Trafficking Crisis/Tip Line (24hrs/&days) : 1-888-772-3324 or 651-291-8810.