WEST FARGO - Tens of thousands of people are flocking to the metro this week to see the latest technology in the ag industry. At the same time, a Fargo advocacy group says dozens are being trafficked to the area to meet a spike in demand for the sex industry.
It's marketed as the region's biggest farm show where state of the art equipment and shiny new machines attract between 65,000 and 80,000 visitors to the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in a three day span. Another industry thriving during Big Iron is alarming Voice for the Captives founder Lisa Hanson.
"It's just growing here in Fargo, that's just the bottomline. This is brewing under our feet," Hanson said.
That brewing issue is sex trafficking and Hanson says events like Big Iron attract big underground exploitation.
"We don't have brothels sitting out on the corner like a third world country with a red light. So, it's something that's definitely underground," Hanson said.
Hanson says you might not necessarily see illicit transactions at the actual event. Instead, online classified ads are driving the business. On an average day, Hanson finds between 10 and 20 escort ads posted on Backpage.com She says the vast majority of those, even ones labeled as independent are actually pimps selling girls and women for sex. This week, the tally of Fargo Backpage posts reached a new peak.
"When we have big events in town, it goes to 40 and into the 50s. And so with the this event, it's always the biggest. It's the biggest I've seen. I think last night it got up to 54," Hanson said.
And Hanson is speaking out in the hopes of helping those who can't or won't speak for themselves.
"If we close our eyes to it, it's going to thrive. These numbers wouldn't be doubling like this if it wasn't able to thrive here," Hanson said.
Voice for the Captives says the average age of American prostitutes is between 12 and 14 years. Globally, the number of girls and women being trafficked grows by almost a million each year.