Human Traffickers Still Use the So-Called 'Minnesota Pipeline'
ST. PAUL, Minn. – A report being delivered to Minnesota lawmakers this week is expected to open their eyes to an issue often in the shadows - human trafficking. Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC), says some estimates put the number of women and girls involved in prostitution in the state at 10,000.
"The fact is that Minnesota has a human trafficking problem out of proportion to our population; more than you would expect. And so, the first thing we need to do, I think, is just shake us up a little and say, 'This is happening in our backyard and we have to address a growing problem.'"
Rusche says the perpetrators often target those children who are vulnerable; the typical age of a child forced into trafficking is between 11 and 14.
"If you're a young person and you're homeless, and somebody is going to get you out of the cold and give you a warm place to live, that has a certain amount of attraction – and just may be enough to keep you in a really unhealthy relationship."
Some people question why the victims don't just run when the false kindness they were shown turns into forced sex or labor. Rusche explains it is often because they have nowhere to turn, and have been robbed of their human dignity and free will.
"There's a certain level of coercion, psychological control and fear involved, so that people feel like they are locked in, they're trapped and they can't get out. It's a modern form of slavery."
Two ways to address the issue, says Rusche, are to enact tougher penalties for perpetrators and ensure that state law treats victims like victims. He adds the factors that increase vulnerability to human trafficking also need to be addressed – such issues as poverty, homelessness and child neglect.
Rusche says the state actually earned the label "the Minnesota pipeline" because of its reputation as a place where young girls could easily be lured, whether it was in the cities, the suburbs or small towns. In 2008, the FBI declared Minneapolis the eighth worst city in the United States for trafficking of juveniles.
The report is online at jrlc.org.