Attacking the market for sex with underage girls

“Some people think sex sting operations can’t happen in small towns, but this is proof that they can. I believe these eight arrests show that this problem is far more prevalent than anyone thought. No one is policing the Internet. These arrests are the reality of the situation.”

— Brown County Sheriff’s Officer Senior Investigator Jeff Hohensee

Hohensee was quoted in The Journal recentlyy after eight men, including two from Lyon County, were arrested during an undercover sex sting operation last week in Springfield.

It was just last June when the Walnut Grove police chief was caught up in a similar sting operation in Redwood County. He was one of three men arrested.

All of these men will have their day in court. But one thing is clear right now — there is a market in rural Minnesota for sex with underage girls. This is no longer just not a big city problem.

According to Stateline, in the past decade, states have dramatically changed laws targeting the sex trade to distinguish between voluntary prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls who are forced or coerced into selling sex. Victims can be trafficked locally or across state lines by pimps or organized crime syndicates.

The new laws have given police a new mission, according to Stateline. Instead of working to bust prostitutes, in many states they now focus on identifying sex trafficking victims and disrupting the system that produces them.

A state of Washington prosecutor urges that the focus of underage sex to be focused on arresting buyers.

“You need to criminalize the buying side because if you don’t reduce the demand, you’re not going to solve the problem,” Valiant Richey of King County said.

That’s exactly what police agencies are attempting to do right here in southwest Minnesota. In the recent case in Springfield, undercover investigators acted as 16-year-old females willing to trade sex or sex acts for money or narcotics. After suspects initiated email conversations, they were directed to text message undercover agents at their cellular number, according to court documents.

And where are law enforcement officials getting the resources to conduct these operations?

Hohensee cited the existence of public and private grants from government entities and women’s supportive organizations as being vital in law enforcement being able to conduct sex sting operations.

This is a good start in dealing with a disgusting problem. But more can be done. More education is needed to keep our youths from falling into common traps. The Stateline report says many girls involved in prostitution come from broken homes and may be runaways trying to survive. Meanwhile, traffickers are “master manipulators” who know how to target girls who have tough home lives or having trouble fitting in with their peers. Many girls may initially think of men as boyfriends, but they quickly become their pimps.

Also, more funding should be funneled to area local police agencies so more can be done to attack the apparent existing market for sex with underage youths.

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