A new billboard grabs the attention of those traveling through the prairie nine miles east of Watertown, SD. As noted on the billboard, the Watertown Initiative to Prevent Sex Trafficking Is alerting the community about this terrible evil and the hotline number to report suspicious behavior. The image of the child is shown with the permission of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
The Benedictine Sisters of Mother of God Monastery established the Watertown Initiative to Prevent Sex Trafficking (WIPST) in September, 2015, upon receiving a grant from Catholic Health Initiatives Violence Prevention. However, prevention efforts first began in 2011 when Sister Marlene Minnaert, Prioress, vowed to do something to help prevent trafficking after attending a national meeting where horrendous stories of sexually exploited women and children were shared. The Benedictine Sisters collaborated with local agencies and individuals to create a community advocacy group called HOPE: Local Citizens Against Human Trafficking in 2012. HOPE’s work soon expanded and needed further support and participation, which resulted in the establishment of WIPST and its grant-funded outreach.