Minneapolis gets results in efforts to combat sex trafficking of juveniles

Minneapolis City leaders today heard a report about the City’s work, in partnership with other agencies and organizations, to stop the sex trafficking of juveniles. Over the last year, Minneapolis has used a new approach to combating sex trafficking, which has led to promising results. Since February 2011, 19 defendants have been charged, including 14 for felony sex trafficking, four for felony procuring or hiring a minor for prostitution, and one for manufacture of child pornography. Through these cases, 18 juvenile females were rescued.

The innovative approach to preventing and dealing with sex trafficking is victim-centered, which means law enforcement views the juveniles involved in prostitution as victims. With cooperation from the victims, prosecutors are more often able to bring felony charges against the people who traffic those young girls. The traditional method of arresting and prosecuting prostitutes leads to less-serious misdemeanor charges and often does not address the root of the problem or prevent it from happening again.

Another key aspect of the approach is that it is multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary, to attack the problem from a number of angles. Minneapolis and its law enforcement partners have been working with the local business and advocacy communities and other partners to bring an end to sex trafficking of juveniles.

On Monday, for example, a man charged with allegedly prostituting a 16-year-old girl and 17-year-old girl entered an Alford plea of guilty in Ramsey County District Court to promoting prostitution. An Alford plea means that he did not admit he committed the crime, but acknowledged that the State had a good case against him. The recruitment of these girls took place in Minneapolis as did some of the criminal acts. The case was prosecuted out of Ramsey County because the significant trafficking took place there and in Dakota County. The case was a joint effort of the Minneapolis Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations.

Last week, the City and its partners held a successful training which engaged hotel and motel owners and their employees so they know how to join in the effort to recognize, report, and stop sex trafficking. The training was attended by nearly 100 people, representing about 25 hotel and motel properties. Among the cases charged in 2012, all but one involved the use of a hotel as the environment for sex trafficking, and in every case, the hotel was able to provide meaningful evidence to support a conviction.

The approach also relies on using accurate research to better understand the causes of the issue. For example, national research shows that 96 percent of girls who are trafficked are runaways, and their average age of entry into prostitution is 14. When girls are on their own at that age, some may turn to prostitution to fulfill basic needs like housing, security, and medical care. Knowing what early warning signs may lead to prostitution can help partners intervene before that happens. Among last year’s local cases, all the juveniles were runaways.

By working with social services, the hospitality industry, and other partners, law enforcement can better uncover cases of trafficking, remove youth from being trafficked, and connect them with resources that can help them break away from prostitution.

The Minneapolis Police Department will be adding new resources in 2013 to continue fighting sex trafficking. Last year the department had one dedicated investigator in the Juvenile Sex Trafficking Squad, and in 2013 the department plans to add a second investigator to the squad. Next week, the department will also move two sergeants from the Juvenile Unit into the Child Abuse Unit to assist with juvenile sex trafficking investigations. These investigators will continue their on-going work with the Absenting Project: a program in partnership with Hennepin County Child Protection which diverts juvenile runways from criminal sanctions to social solutions. The sergeants will identify children at the highest risk of being sexually trafficked and assist in the location of and intervention with these youths. Last year, every victim rescued from sex traffickers was a runaway with a repeated history of absenting. 

Published Jan 16, 2013