New ally in war on trafficking

Minnesota, a sex-trade and forced-labor hub, now also is home base for the Institute for Trafficked, Exploited & Missing Persons.

These have been actual ads on local classified sites: “Sexy Czech Beauty,” “Drop Dead Gorgeous Puerto Rican Playmate,” “Unforgettable Oriental Relaxing Massage.”

They serve as a gritty reminder that Minnesota is a center for human trafficking — either for sex or forced labor. The FBI says an average of 100 girls under the age of 18 are trafficked in Minnesota every month.

But the state also is a growing hub for organizations dedicated to combatting this modern-day slavery. One of the newest players with a local connection is the Institute for Trafficked, Exploited & Missing Persons (ITEMP), started in Bismarck, N.D., a decade ago but recently headquartered in Minnetonka.

Founder Patrick Atkinson has spent nearly 30 years working around the world to save women and children from traffickers. Now the 52-year-old who exudes the energy of someone 20 years younger has turned his attention to increasing Minnesotans’ awareness of ITEMP, a nonprofit corporation with rescue, shelter and education operations in Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa and the United States.