Police investing more resources in fight against youth prostitution

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January 16, 2013 // UPDATED 8:40 pm - January 16, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
City Attorney Susan Segal and Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder outside of City Hall.
File photo
Sarah McKenzie
Another full-time investigator will join Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder in working on the cases

Minneapolis Police are investing more resources in the fight against child sex trafficking, including adding another full-time investigator to work with Sgt. Grant Snyder on cases.

Snyder and other public safety officials briefed a City Council committee this afternoon on the latest efforts to prevent and investigate youth prostitution.

In addition to adding an investigator to work with Snyder, two sergeants will be charged with reaching out to runaway youth who are at risk of becoming trafficking victims, said Minneapolis Police Lt. Greg Reinhardt.

He said police have rescued 18 girls from youth prostitution in the past year, and every girl was a runaway, he said. Since February 2011, 19 defendents have been charged with felonies for crimes related to child sex trafficking, according to a city news release. 

"It's as easy to buy and sell a child for sex as buying baseball cards," he said. "We want to put an end to that."

Snyder, who has worked on youth prostitution cases for 13 years, said the crimes are "attacks on the very essence of what it means to be a child."

"Once you tear back the veil, illuminate those hidden places, it's about one thing: Sex trafficking is about the commercial sale of our children for sex," he said.

He also led a training Jan. 8 at the Best Western Normandy Hotel Inn & Suites with staff from 25 local hotels, sharing tips on ways to be on the look out for child sex trafficking and work with police to go after the pimps. 

Most of the sex trafficking victims get involved in prostitution between the ages of 12 and 14, he said. They come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and about 60 percent are recruited by peers — often in schools or treatment facilities.

He shared the story of AB (a name chosen to protect the girl's identity), a 15-year-old girl involved in prostitution. She was a chronic runaway whose grandmother tipped police off to her situation. Snyder spent two hours with AB when he first met her, building a rapport with her and urging her to call him to make sure she was safe. She then called him everyday for 30 days with updates on her status. Ultimately, Snyder and other police officers were able to convince AB and another girl to provide information about their pimps after they were sold for sex to four men in North Minneapolis by two pimps. Those pimps were arrested and charged with felonies. One received a sentence of 166 months; the other pimp has also pled guilty and a sentence is pending.

The majority of cases investigated by police are connected to ads posted on Backpage.com and other sites like Datehookup.com. City Attorney Susan Segal said she's seen between 180 and 200 ads posted on Backpage.com that appear to be girls advertised for sex when she's checked in recent days. 

Snyder said he's had to overcome biases about prostitution he had when he started with the police department — biases shared by many other people in the community. 

In addition to histories of trauma and sex abuse in their families, Snyder said the girls share other traits.

"They are brave. They face down threats and move on," he said. "They are resourceful." 

Here is an excerpt from a letter a trafficking victim sent to a city investigator (the exerpt was included in a city news release): 

“Today for some reason I am really happy and glad to be alive. I think that’s why I am writing this letter to you. I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done for me.”

“The last couple of days I’ve really been trying to think why I should still be alive. But I thought of a couple of reasons. To be there for the ones who truly care about me; you, mom, dad, sisters, brothers, nephews, family. Also because I want to help out the girls that are stuck in the situations that I had to be stuck in.”

“…I want to tell you that you that you gave me hope…to another life and I appreciate that very much.”

The Journals recently published an indepth report, "Out of the Dark," looking at the problem of child sex trafficking in Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety delivered a report called "No Wrong Door" to the Legislature yesterday. It calls for about $13 million to pay for new housing units and supportive services for sexually exploited youth.