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Fargo sex trade out of public eye

International Justice Mission works to educate students on human, sex trafficking

Filing through the streets of Amsterdam, potential customers peer into windows where half-naked women kneel on silk sheets and pillows. Glowing red lights outline the women’s bodies as they sway around, beckoning buyers.

Amsterdam’s famed red light district where sex is sold like groceries in a market ranks among the top 50 tourist attractions in the Netherlands, according to TripAdvisor, an online travel review site.

Red light district describes an urban area where the sex trade is especially concentrated. Fargo is also considered a red light district, according to Voice for the Captives, a Fargo-Moorhead organization that works to educated people about sex trafficking. The sex trade in Fargo is less overt than it is in Amsterdam where prostitution is legal, operating out of sight of the public eye.

At Concordia, students are working to raise awareness of sex trafficking and human trafficking through their work with International Justice Mission.

IJM is a global organization that works with local justice systems around the world to help victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking.

“IJM is trying to create a system of individual intervention,” IJM faculty advisor Kristi Loberg said. “But, they are also trying to work with international justice systems to go after sex traffickers.”

Amy Oksol, IJM Vice President, said Concordia’s IJM Chapter is working to educate students about the sex trade and human trafficking.

Kate Schiffman, IJM President, added the issues of sex trafficking and human trafficking are relevant to the average Concordia student because every person’s actions can impact other people who may be more vulnerable to being ensnared in slavery.

“We live in a world today that, no matter what we do, impacts the world,” she said. “It would be very shortsighted of us to think we don’t impact those cultures.”

As part of IJM’s mission to educate Concordia students about these human rights issues, IJM is hosting Justice Week, a week-long series of events that will help students understand more about trafficking and what they can do to help.

Molly Axvig, a member of Concordia’s IJM Chapter, said the first challenge of organizations like IJM is to raise awareness.

“You can’t take action against injustice if you don’t know it exists,” she said.

IJM is kicking off Justice Week with a showing of “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls,” a documentary about sex trafficking.

Oksol said the film is very powerful and difficult to move on from. She described how she felt after watching it for the first time.

“I really just wanted to cry,” she said. “I kept thinking, if I was one of those girls, how different my life would be.”

As a student at Concordia, Loberg visited Amsterdam’s red light district while she was on an economics and social policy May Seminar.

She commented on how she felt seeing the women behind the windows.

“When I looked in their eyes, which was difficult to do,” she said, “I just had this question: Are they really doing this voluntarily?”

There is a common misconception about prostitution that says a person who prostitutes themselves does so willingly. Loberg said prostitutes are, more often than not, trapped financially or are threatened by their pimps.

“It’s about power, sex and victimization,” she said.

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