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After 11-year-old son receives sexual texts, West Fargo mother chooses to combat online sex trafficking

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Julie Zimny of West Fargo talks about the sexual text message her son is receiving on his phone. Forum News Service2 / 2

WEST FARGO—West Fargo mother Julie Zimny bought a cell phone for her 11-year-old son to keep in touch when they would go to friends' houses or when she and her husband were out of the house.

She soon saw the number was getting dozens of calls and messages of men looking to get together. Zimny thought it was just the previous owner's ex-boyfriends looking to hookup, but she discovered something worse.

"There wasn't anything too detailed in the beginning, but then as we started getting more and more, they began getting more detailed where people were saying, 'Do you have any first-time specials? I've never done this before.' So it became pretty obvious what was going on," said Zimny.

She didn't respond to the messages for awhile, but one day she decided to ask one man, "What is it that you are looking for?" and he said he was looking for a sexual act, "maybe more, like a half hour, and at that point I told him you have the wrong number."

The stranger was taken aback, asking why she would post her child's number on an adult website.

She continued the conversation with the man and discovered the number had been advertised on cityxguide.com as an ad for an escort.

Zimny knew she wasn't going to take the easy way out by changing the number. She was going to investigate further.

"I haven't spoken to them (her cell phone provider) at all. I know that I can change my number, I've done it before. That's not an issue. That's certainly something I can very easily do right now. The reason I didn't do that is because of the work that I've done. It just didn't sit right with me to turn a blind eye to what was going on," Zimny said.

"If I am in a position that I can potentially help somebody then I want to try to do that. I've started collecting all the information and have a running list."

Zimny filed a report with the West Fargo Police Department, but since the report is "still open, and the investigation is ongoing, we can't comment on that until the case is closed," according to Assistant Police Chief Jerry Boyer.

Zimny's grandmother started shelters for women suffering from domestic abuse, and sexual violence. She also has worked with programs like FUSE, a state-wide sex trafficking coalition in North Dakota. The combination of experiences has given her a close look into the sex trade.

"There has kind of been a switch recently where they are finally starting to realize these are victims in these cases and in order to protect them that we do need to start focusing more on the johns," said Zimny.

"With sex trafficking and human trafficking, it's a supply and demand issue. If we can strangle that demand and catch johns and give harsher sentences, obviously that's going to help protect the women and children in these situations."

The passion she has for helping women and ultimately delivering justice to criminals doesn't go unnoticed by her 11-year-old son.

"My son said to me, 'It's really cool that you're doing this because most people would have just changed your number and not even thought about it. That's really neat that you're somebody that's doing something and you're actually trying to help people versus just blowing them off.'

"I think that meant a lot and showed me there's people watching. Our little people are watching us. We always talk about doing the right thing and treating others a certain way, but we can't just say those things, we need to take action and do something."

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