MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Crowds of men stood before the state capital Saturday afternoon in the cold and rain, barely flinching, because they knew it was nothing compared to what a growing number of Minnesota women endure every day.
For many, Saturday was a historic day to take a stand. For the first time in Minnesota, men joined the fight against human trafficking.
The anti-human trafficking organizations Men Against The Trafficking Of Others (MATTOO) and Breaking Free were behind a two-day event called the Demand Change Project. It was launched with the goal of ending human trafficking across the world.
Minnesota is one of the worst places in the country when it comes to human trafficking, according to the FBI. Studies show an average of 100 girls under the age of 18 in Minnesota are sold into sex traffic every month.
“Human trafficking is the second largest criminal market in the world today, however, it’s the fastest growing,” said Andrew Hanson, founder of MATTOO. “Why? Because of the strong demand. And where is that demand coming from? Men.”
The Maple Grove native says he tried to get involved in the anti-human trafficking movement for more than a decade. He said he founded MATTOO when he realized that the movement needed men to encourage other men to stop supporting the human trafficking market.
“We can rescue as many women and girls as we possibly can. However, if we don’t decrease the demand, another woman or girl might be put right back into that spot,” Hanson said.
Hanson wanted the MATTOO movement to start in Minnesota and then move across the world.
“Minnesota is the North Star State, the guiding star state, and so we should be the ones that set the example,” he said.
Hanson led a group of a few hundred men at a march and rally that ended in downtown St. Paul. Sharon Kennedy was among the women in the crowd. She was moved to tears.
“It’s like rape repeatedly over and over again,” said Kennedy, a human trafficking survivor. “You are a slave to the lifestyle, a slave to the money, a slave to your circumstances.”
She once lived a life of gang activity and prostitution. Today, she says she is writing a book about her life, and working toward her college degree.
“I’ve been crying and crying at home, knowing there’s actually men out there that don’t want to abuse women,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy stood watching as men in the crowd publicly signed a banner and pledged to refuse the sex trade. The banner will be taken to rallies across ten cities in the United States and Europe this summer.
Gary Fisk, of Iowa, was among those who made the pledge.
“I’d like to think that I show appreciation for women, but at the same time, I know when I go home tonight, I’ll show more appreciation for my wife and my daughter that’s there,” Fisk said.
The St. Paul police chief and several lawmakers were in the crowd to watch the rally.