Monday, 9 May 2011

Decriminalizing Victims Proposed to Crack-Down on MN Sex Trafficking

by Jacob Kittilstad and photojournalist Harry Baker, FOX 21 NEWS
DULUTH-100,000 children are sexually exploited each year in the U.S according to conservative estimates from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

They say it is because of human trafficking.

On Thursday local authorities met to announce they back a new strategy to drastically cut those numbers down.

Prostitution is an established epidemic in the Northland.. Fed by sex trafficking, concerned groups say it thrives in the isolation of its victims.

"They’re threatened, beaten, raped, forced onto drugs, or psychologically manipulated,” Sherry Sanchez-Tibbets, Executive Director of the American Indian Community Housing Organization said.

"The crime becomes more horrendous when we realize the average age into prostitution is 12,” Sanchez-Tibbets said.

Anna Donnelly from the Advocates for Human Rights says it gets sadder.

"A child is only likely to survive five to seven more years and she is likely to be forced to have sex with over 2,000 men each year,” Donnelly said.

But victims rarely step forward because they are fearful of punishment, Donnelly said.

According to current state law the kids are not only considered maltreated minors. They are also called juvenile delinquents.

"We weren't always looking beyond just that arrest,” Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said of prostitution enforcement 10-15 years ago. “And now it's becoming more and more apparent that a lot of these women are being trafficked for money. It's a business."

According to the St. Louis County Sheriff, it is a business nationally taking in $32 billion a year placing the unlawful trade second only to illegal drugs.

But the Minnesota legislature has a new proposal to classifying sexually exploited children as crime victims and not criminals.

"It’s a legislative act which I really think is an act of love,” St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said.

Currently St. Louis County does not prosecute young girls who sell their bodies within the district. If the proposed legislation goes through, Minnesota will become only the fifth state in the nation to make this the plan law.

"That's the problem. If we can show some support we can target the people who are hurting, who are exploiting the children in the community,” Rubin said.

The Minnesota bills are moving forward in the legislature. Supporters, however, say they fear their efforts could get stalled as legislators tries to solve a $5 billion deficit.
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