By Dwight Hobbes
In 2011, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) launched MN Girls Are Not For Sale, a five-year four-million dollar effort to end the sexual trafficking of girls and young women. The sad fact is, despite WFM’s staunch commitment to this crucial cause, girls and young women are still for sale.
Until concrete measures are resolutely brought to bear, this insidious, illicit market thrives with wretched, far-reaching, life-destroying consequence. The Department of Justice identifies Minneapolis-St. Paul as a major child sex-trafficking center, one of the nation’s 15 largest.
Law enforcement, albeit unwittingly, is culpable. There’re no stats, but numbers don’t quantify the difference police departments would make by recognizing, acknowledging and acting on the obvious. No girls in their teens and younger aspires
to roam dangerous avenues all hours of the day and night risking sexually transmitted disease, characteristically in drug-addicted misery.
Accordingly, these are abuse victims, be it by beating, sexual force, rape by seduction, or mental or emotion intimidation. Cops should be compelled to employ common sense and, instead of running young hookers in, protect and serve with intervention, steering ensnared adolescents and children somewhere safer and better than behind bars.
Toward said end, the Safe Harbors for Sexually Exploited Youth Act Bill becomes law next year, mandating that police work in this circumstance isn’t solely about apprehension and punishment. Apprehension and punishment is for the john and the pimp. Apprehension, rescue and rehabilitation are for the girls and young women.
There are stats on the numbers of these victims and rates at which they flee to streets from abusive homes. Usually, they’ve been raped at a tender age, often by family members. Not infrequently, like regular, gullible teenagers, they fall for some no-good man who turns around and pimps them out by beatings, getting them hooked on drugs, or both.
Since law enforcement has been slow to figure out that these females are human beings and should be treated like the obvious victims they are, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has acted to pick up the learning curve at police and sheriff departments. They do so in concert with several partners, including Breaking Free, which has been saving girls from the streets since 1996, and heavy-hitting politicians like Senator Amy Kobuchar, who just introduced a bill to take the Girls Are Not For Sale model national.
Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, is another high-powered suit out of Washington, D.C. whose head evidently is on straight. A President Obama appointee, he is senior advisor to the Secretary of State and was keynote speaker for the Nov. 18 day-long conference “At the Intersections of our Work: Strengthening Minnesota’s Comprehensive Model to End Child Sex Trafficking “ held at the Minnesota History Center.
The ambassador spoke with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder on aspects of this issue earlier in the day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel’s Cafe North Star. He was asked what has taken such a critical piece of legislation as the Safe Harbors for Sexually Exploited Youth Act Bill so long to become law when politicians can pass a pay raise in the blink of an eye.
“Turning it around is not as easy as flipping a switch,” he answered. “My concern is that we have to get the housing and rehabilitation piece done right. Because, if you’re saying to these girls, ‘Come out of the life,’ you need to have somewhere safe for them to go.”
Pursuant to which, as things stand, there are two shelter beds in all of Minnesota, both at Breaking Free, for young prostitutes looking for help. “A lot of folks are disappointed that the legislature didn’t appropriate more [funding],” CdeBaca continued. “It sounds like there’s going to be more like 20 beds eventually. The hope was to have 60 or 100. The reality is that short-term solutions [are] easiest, [like] jail.
“If you lock up the girl, she’s not going to be able to run away again. So, the most expedient thing to do ends up being to call her a little criminal.”
Career criminals from little criminals grow. Once an adolescent starts carrying a police jacket for something as serious as prostitution, it gets harder and harder to go legit. So, a young woman who wants to get on the straight and narrow now has an obstacle.
Coming out of incarceration that first time, odds are she’s been scared by having been behind bars. There’s a good chance she wants nothing more than a chance to straighten up — but she can’t get a job because she has a criminal record.
She can find work, though. Soon as she’s desperate enough for food and a roof overhead, she’ll return to prostitution, at some point getting arrested again. It gives meaning to the expression “a vicious cycle,” one the Safe Harbors for Sexually Exploited Youth Act Bill will be put into effect to interrupt.
While this legislation worked its way through bureaucratic red tape, countless youth now are grown women still going through the criminal justice system’s revolving door. For them, Safe Harbors for Sexually Exploited Youth Act will arrive after the fact. As it were, a day late and a dollar short.
Ambassador CdeBaca points out a positive: “We’ve seen it in one place and want to see if it can be taken across the country. That’s in New York. Just this last year, girls have been getting the success of their records being expunged.
“You get an adult who has all these prosecution arrests, they can now go to the judge and say, ‘Look, I was a trafficking victim as a kid. And the judge can go back and erase all of that from her record. She can get a cosmetology license, go to nursing school, so many jobs survivors ordinarily can’t get.”
That, in and of itself, offers opportunity that amount to a godsend, the chance to leave a dead-end lifestyle behind. Regrettable as it is that the political machinery hasn’t seen fit to fast-track the Safe Harbors for Sexually Exploited Youth Act Bill, at least fat cats on the Hill finally have got around to it, for which we can be grateful.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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