I just read a great blog by Karen Boros on MinnPost at minneapolis-targets-backpagecom-ads-fight-against-juvenile-sex-trafficking about the efforts of the Minneapolis City Council to stop the Internet advertisements for juvenile prostitutes. Protected by the 1st Amendment, the web site, backpage.com has run ads for sexual activity. Through code words like “new in town,” they indicate to the buyers that the girls are juveniles but are available for sex for pay.
I have worked in Juvenile Court, as a lawyer, for over 12 years and have represented many young girls who are probably involved in the sex trade. For a variety of reasons, many girls run from their homes. On the street they are easy prey for pimps. Even if the girls are picked-up and sent temporarily to St. Joseph’s Shelter in south Minneapolis, it’s not a locked facility and the girls can run pretty easily.
It’s sad and difficult work for law enforcement to try and protect these girls. It certainly doesn’t help that a web site advertises how to find them. The web site defends itself by actually saying they are “providing a service” because law enforcement can track the johns through their emails and purchases on line!
When I started practicing law as a Public Defender, many of my cases involved representing young girls (over 18) charged with prostitution. Most were lost, not too smart, and desperate. The johns got off completely.
Since then, both federal and state law in Minnesota have changed all that. Juvenile prostitutes are now considered victims by law and are not prosecuted. This may not sound like much, but it’s a big deal because it changes the entire focus of law enforcement. Many non-governmental groups operate to find these victims and offer them shelter and an escape from the life of a prostitute.
To give you an example of how sad these situations can be, I’ll relate the story of a young, female client I defended years ago. She was 18, had just arrived in Minneapolis from a rural Minnesota area, and didn’t have much money. She turned to prostitution. At that time, they were arrested as “criminals.” An undercover male cop picked her up in his unmarked car and, as he drove directly to the police station, asked what she was doing. The girl immediately said she was looking for sex for money. It took just about the same time to drive her to jail as it did to get the words out of her.
I represented her the next morning in court. She plead guilty and the judge released her on probation.
The very next morning, the same girl was in court, arrested again for prostitution. Not only that, she’d been on the same corner, the same undercover cop had picked her up, and he’d taken the same direct route to jail!!
Here’s the ending: The judge gave her the maximum sentence over my strenuous objections and sent the young girl to the workhouse. Without telling me, he called the workhouse the next day and ordered her released after she’d had some food, a good night’s sleep, and, hopefully, learned something.
Thank goodness, vulnerable juvenile girls are no longer considered criminals. It’s a huge step forward for everyone.