ST. CLOUD -- A demonstration Saturday along Highway 23 in St. Cloud aims to raise awareness of sexual exploitation of women.

The Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, in partnership with several other area groups, is hosting Stop Traffick: End Demand Demonstration 2020. The event is a public protest demanding an end to sex trafficking, prostitution, pornography and strip clubs.

Sex trafficking and prostitution have received more attention in recent years as real concerns in central Minnesota, says Rebecca Kotz, Trafficking Services Coordinator for the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center. Kotz says, nationally, one in five men self-report paying for sex at least once in their life.

Kotz says that statistic is likely inaccurate.

"Since that's self-reported, it's probably a conservative stat, "Kotz says. "In reality, it's likely much more, because people don't openly admit to that."

The demonstration is focused on more than just trafficking and prostitution. Pornography and strip clubs are highly exploitative, Kotz says, and are industries supported by male demand.

"(Strip clubs) are seen as a rite of passage," Kotz says. "Often, for their 18th birthday, young men will celebrate at a club. They'll take an opportunity to bond and celebrate with other men by objectifying and exploiting women."

Kotz says staging the protest in a highly visible intersection was important to event organizers.

“We wanted to do a public demonstration because, in our line of work, we’re often preaching to the choir," Kotz explains. "The people who come to our awareness or training events are often eager to learn, or already understand the gravity of trafficking or sexual violence. We wanted to do this public demonstration to reach a different audience, and raise awareness that exploitation is happening.”

The demonstration will be held from 12:45-2:00 p.m. Participants will meet at Midtown Square Mall near the intersection of Highway 23 and 33rd Ave. in St. Cloud prior to the event, where Kotz says they'll have sign-making supplies on hand, as well as snacks and warm drinks.

Kotz says all are welcome.

Stop Traffick: End Demand Demonstration 2020 is hosted by the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center in partnership with the SCSU Women's Center, AnnaMarie's Alliance, Terebinth Refuge and the Gender Violence Institute.

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