On January 16 the Public Safety, Health and Civil Rights Committee we heard an in depth and very disturbing presentation about Minneapolis children being used and sold and learned that very real forms are slavery exist in our City today.
At it, Sargent Grant A. Snyder reported on an innovative victim-centered approach being used to rescue victims of these terrible crimes. Minneapolis appears to a nexus for child sex trafficking. Victims are boys as well as girls and are found throughout the city. Every child rescued last year was a runaway. The approach recognizes juveniles involved in prostitution as victims and by working with them police are able to rescue them and prosecutors are more often able to bring felony charges against the people who traffic those girls and boys. The traditional method of arresting and prosecuting the youth as prostitutes has been far less effective, criminalizes the victims and does not address the root of the problem or prevent it from happening again.
By working with social services, the hospitality industry, and other partners, we have seen some improvements in law enforcement’s ability to uncover cases of trafficking, remove youth from being trafficked, and connecting them with resources that can help them.
National research shows that 96 percent of girls who are trafficked are runaways, and their average age of entry into prostitution is 14. While there are likely many more victims, last year the police followed up on nearly 70 complaints, formally investigated 32 cases and charged 19 adults with felonies. Through these cases, 18 juvenile females were rescued. Some of our best support in the community may come from the hotel and motel business operators, many of who participated in a recent workshop to assist them in identifying victims and reporting suspicious activity to the police. 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. Another valuable resource is Breaking Free which provides support to young victims. You can learn more about their work here: http://www.breakingfree.net/default.aspx.
Last year the City had only one dedicated investigator in the Juvenile Sex Trafficking Squad, and in 2013 we will add a second investigator to the squad and move two sergeants from the Juvenile Unit into the Child Abuse Unit to assist with the juvenile sex trafficking investigations. I look forward to seeing more progress in this next year. I know a first step is for all of us to better realize, and admit, to the extent of this problem. I am very hopeful that this approach which rightly acknowledges the youth as a victim to be rescued might help us not only prevent further suffering for those young at risk for this kind of violence and abuse, but also serve as a model for our approach to other crimes where other vulnerable individuals are also forced, and coerced into illegal activity.