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Play addresses sex trafficking

A play that features stories from teens who were lured into sex trafficking has received a mixed response in Fargo-Moorhead. "Some people say it just doesn't happen here," said Maureen Jonason, chairwoman of the awareness project organized by Far...

A play that features stories from teens who were lured into sex trafficking has received a mixed response in Fargo-Moorhead.

"Some people say it just doesn't happen here," said Maureen Jonason, chairwoman of the awareness project organized by Fargo and Moorhead Soroptimist clubs.

But panelists who spoke Sunday after a production of "Body & Sold" said the problem is real and it's not exclusive to big cities.

The documentary play, using the real stories of eight young people, illustrates how prostitution is not always a path that people choose.

The eight stories, portrayed by local actors from Theatre B, had common threads:

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- Many came from abusive or difficult family situations that prompted them to run away from home as teens or preteens.

- They then met someone who preyed on their vulnerability and seduced, lured or kidnapped them into a life of prostitution.

- All of them faced challenges getting out of their situations because they became addicted to drugs or had difficulty finding housing or jobs.

Panelist Cheri Gerken, who works with homeless youths in the Fargo area through the nonprofit Youthworks, said there are young people locally who are being exploited.

"These are the stories we hear day in and day out," Gerken said.

The risks for young people locally are increasing because homelessness among youths in Fargo is a growing epidemic, Gerken said.

Steve Gabrielson, a detective with the Cass County Sheriff's Department, said the cases he encounters may not be as severe as the examples in the play, but he often encounters similar stories.

Sherry Short, a grass-roots activist who has studied rural sex trade, said prostitution in rural areas often has different characteristics.

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A pimp is not always involved and the sex may be in exchange for car repairs or payment of a heating bill rather than cash, Short said.

The play was written by Deborah Lake Fortson from interviews conducted in five cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul.

This is the second year the Soroptimist clubs brought the play to Fargo-Moorhead. Ninety percent of the proceeds will benefit the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center.

Jonason, the project chairwoman, said the goal of the project is to promote dialogue about sex trafficking so that it can be prevented.

"We think that it's only going to become an increasing problem," Jonason said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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