SAUK RAPIDS – A pair of local churches will host a community training focused on human sex trafficking in the United States and how people in the St. Cloud area can help spot and fight it.

Thursday’s Human Trafficking Prevention Training event will be held at Discovery Church in Sauk Rapids starting at 7:00 p.m.

The event, co-hosted by The Waters Church in Sartell, will feature a representative from F.R.E.E. International, a Las Vegas-based organization that coordinates with law enforcement, churches, schools, and local and state governments around the United States to fight human sex trafficking. The organization also supports decriminalization for trafficking survivors.

Jake Hemmesch, youth pastor at The Waters Church, has attended a prevention training hosted by F.R.E.E. International. Hemmesch says the training opened his eyes to the issue and helped him identify a young person locally who was privately dealing with a sexually exploitative situation.

“I learned those most at risk are middle and high school-aged kids in foster care or some type of unstable home situation,” he explained. “And, many of the things mentioned (in the training) reminded me of this girl. I was able to reach out and get in contact with her a couple months later. At that point, she was actually in a recovery house. She had been in a situation with an older boyfriend who was trying to traffic her.”

“It’s horrible and there are people at risk and in need,” he added. “Being someone who works with youth and teenagers, I know that this is the group most at risk. I don’t want to see anyone I know affected by it.”

Hemmesch says he’s started seeing more faith leaders and churches take a stand on ending human sex trafficking.

“I feel like it’s the church’s responsibility to stand up to social issues like this, Hemmesch said. “When you say ‘sex trafficking,’ – well, sex is such a taboo topic in the church, and it shouldn’t be. It should be something that we are able to talk about, and when things like this are happening, we need to stand up against it and do whatever we can to exact change.”

The training is free and open to all. The maximum capacity for the program is around 220 people, and Hemmesch says they’ve had around 100 people sign up to attend in person. The training will be recorded and available by request.

“We want to show people that the way trafficking might be shown in Hollywood movies isn’t the way it actually happens,” he said. “The reality is – many times, human trafficking comes from people who are close to (the victims).”

To learn more or register for the Human Trafficking Prevention Training, visit the event’s Facebook page.