North Dakota family raising awareness of human trafficking
MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Miss North Dakota 2000 Kay Picconatto Levesque and her husband Sean Levesque, both Minot natives, sold their house and most of their possessions in Minnesota last year, bought a fifth wheeler and hit the road with their three children to inform the public about the evils of human trafficking.
“I thought he was nuts when he first made the suggestion,” said Kay Levesque, but she was quickly persuaded to take the leap of faith.
Together the Lesvesques are co-founders and co-executive directors of the group Love2Hope, a name suggested by their youngest son, Caden, 9, because when you love people, you bring them to hope.
“Love is action,” Kay Levesque told the Minot Daily News .
She said their children, Caden and his older siblings, Conner, 14, and Renae, 11, are learning important life lessons about helping others and are seeing the country. She home schools the children.
The Levesques are also trained Ambassadors of Hope with Shared Hope International.
Their Christian faith has inspired their journey. They made the commitment for two years and they are now in their 11th month of traveling the country, speaking to civic groups, churches, and other organizations. They have traveled to Chicago; Richmond, Virginia; Auburn, Alabama; Tampa, Florida; Orlando, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas and Minneapolis. In the coming months they will travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas and Waco, Texas.
They have been in Minot for the past month and are now headed to Bismarck, but will return to Minot at some point in the future to speak at the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.
Kay Levesque was first drawn to the topic about six years ago when she saw a documentary about human trafficking. She was horrified but also wanted to help human trafficking victims and raise awareness of the problem.
Though North Dakota does not have as great a human trafficking problem as some areas of the country, the Levesques said it is still an issue here.
North Dakota also has no beds dedicated primarily to victims of human trafficking. On any given day, Sean Levesque said there are about 600 beds in the country for human trafficking victims but there is a need for 13,000 beds.
The Levesques, both former public school teachers, said they focus on traveling to “hot spots” in the country where the problem is at its greatest.
It is an unseen problem, they said, and human traffickers often target vulnerable teenagers, either in person or online.
Human traffickers often groom their victims. The Levesques said parents and teachers and others should watch for warning signs, like girls who have older boyfriends who have given them expensive gifts, who have started dressing more provocatively or have been getting their hair and nails done and have changed their peer groups. Girls who are actively being trafficked might be irritable or sleepy in class. The Levesques have spoken to clerks at beauty salons as well to advise them as to the warning signs. Sean Levesque said drugs are a trap that many human trafficking victims are caught up in.
Runaways are often targeted by a pimp within their first 48 hours away from home, but teens can also be victimized after they have met a human trafficker online. The Levesques said people often make the mistake of thinking “it doesn’t happen here” but human trafficking is an issue in rural areas and small towns as well as in larger communities.
The Levesques urge people to become involved in organizations that combat human trafficking within their own towns and states. In North Dakota, that includes groups like FUSE North Dakota, the 31:8 Project and Unseen.
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com