Sex trafficking: a Minnesota problem and a Minnesota responseAccording to FBI statistics, Minnesota ranks 13th in the nation for the incidence of minors being lured into the commercial sex trade. The FBI estimates that over 100 minors every month are coerced, enticed, abducted or sold to traffickers to be prostituted, although experts agree that these estimates are low.
By: Tammy Francois, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
According to FBI statistics, Minnesota ranks 13th in the nation for the incidence of minors being lured into the commercial sex trade. The FBI estimates that over 100 minors every month are coerced, enticed, abducted or sold to traffickers to be prostituted, although experts agree that these estimates are low.
According to UNICEF, the average age of entry into commercial sex in the country is 13. Breaking Free, a Minnesota nonprofit providing services and resources to prostituted and exploited women and girls, indicates that a victim is used by an average of 10 buyers (men buying girls and women for sex) per day.
I think back to when my children were 13 years old, and the thought of them, or anyone else's child, being bought and sold for sex (or any other purpose) makes me sick and angry. But it happens. It happens in big cities, small towns, reservations, rural areas and it happens in Duluth. IT HAPPENS IN DULUTH.
It happens much more easily and efficiently now, since the advent of the computer, email, chat rooms, social media sites, and cell phones. Potential victims are just a click away, and traffickers, buyers and sellers take full advantage of the technology.
The sale and exploitation of human beings for sex is not new, and as a culture we have come to think of it in ways that allow us to tuck it into the backs of our minds. Granted, it’s not a pleasant reality, so we refer to it as “the world's oldest profession" as though it has always been and always will be. I’ve heard people say, “It’s a victimless crime. We should just legalize it.” Others think that it’s just an alternative career choice like becoming an accountant or an elementary school teacher.
None of these notions is true, and in the meantime the business of buying and selling women and children for sex continues to grow. Currently, human trafficking is big business. It is the fastest growing black-market crime on the planet and is second only to drug dealing in terms of monies generated, according to a United Nations report. It’s a modern day slave trade.
Before all this has you throwing your hands up in frustration, there is some important work going on. Currently a bill, HF 556, is making its way through the Minnesota House of Representatives. Introduced in 2011, the bill would clarify some of the language in existing legislation so that minors trafficked and used in prostitution would be treated as crime victims not criminals or delinquents.
In addition, funding would be provided to support the efforts of organizations, law enforcement and prosecution working to serve victims and increase penalties for those who sexually exploit Minnesota kids.
Recently, the Minnesota Women’s Foundation launched “MN Girls Are Not For Sale,” a five-year $4 million-campaign to fund research and education in an effort to end the prostitution of Minnesota girls. Funds will also provide the services victims need to recover their lives.
Locally, the American Indian Community Housing Coalition received a grant to develop a model for culturally specific housing and services for youth 13- to 18 years old. AICHO has been working on the issue of sex trafficking since 2008, when it discovered that the majority of AICHO clients shared the common experience of having been exploited through trafficking.
Subsequent research conducted by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition confirmed that indigenous women and girls are disproportionately victims of trafficking and exploitation, and that services to provide help and support for all victims are sorely lacking.
Currently there are only two beds in the state allotted for trafficked youth seeking safe shelter. Other local organizations, the Duluth Police Department, St. Louis County Sheriff's Department and the St. Louis County Attorney’s office are also hard at work as part of a coordinated effort to address this crime.
This is not a victimless crime, and no little girl or young woman grows up with the goal of being used in prostitution. Breaking Free found that 89 percent of its clients wanted to get out of “the life” but didn't know how. They also found that 95 percent had turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with their pain and cope with the reality of their lives, and that 83 percent had been victims of assault with a deadly weapon.
They add that 100 percent of victims are someone’s daughter, sister, or mother. Boys are victimized too, although experts agree that women and girls are most frequently the victims.
Watch the news and this column for updates on these initiatives. You can follow the progress of HF 556 at www.house.leg.state.mn: just do a search for the bill. Look for ways and places to help. Post the link to this column on your Facebook page to increase awareness of this crime. Donate to The Minnesota Women’s Foundation at www.wfmn.org and help it continue to fund this important work. Let’s all be a part of making Minnesota safe for everyone’s kids.
Tammy François is an older-than-average college student living in Morgan Park.