MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s an ugly business.

A new study by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Women’s Foundation reveals local victims of sex trafficking are recruited in places we like to think are safe havens.

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The report finds girls as young as 12 and 13 are first approached by older teens and young men at schools, malls and even parties.

Researchers looked at online ads that fuel the sex trade as well as patterns that can help prevent recruitment in the first place.

The study looked at five years of cases in Minneapolis.

Both traffickers and victims are overwhelmingly low income and from communities of color.

The buyers are from every economic and ethnic background. Some 40 percent of the young girls lured into trafficking come from families where child protection had contact with the family — a potential window for intervention.

“We are in peoples’ homes all the time, and we may not know what is going on,” said deputy chief Kris Arneson of the Minneapolis Police Department. “I think educating our officers to what is going on is extremely important.”

The study found that one group targeted by traffickers for recruitment is young teenage moms. Once these girls are working these traffickers use their children to keep them working in the sex trade.

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The recruiters, most of which are young men, find these girls at parties, malls and schools.

The study was an eye opener for Bernadeia Johnson, the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.

“One of the things we have been taking about is getting back into our schools, talking to our teachers and administrators, making sure they know what to look for,” she said.

The study’s authors say internet sites like Backpage.com, which has come under fire for its escort ads, are fueling the child sex trade.

And police say major events like this summer’s All-Star Game can change the dynamics of what has become a big time business.

“The ads increased dramatically and the cost went from $250 to $100, so they were having a sale,” Arneson said.

We were unable to reach Backpage.com.

The study’s authors are hoping to use the Minneapolis findings to curb trafficking in other communities.

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Read the study here.

Esme Murphy