6 charged in Dakota County as sting targets juvenile sex trafficking

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Charges filed against six men in Dakota County are the latest salvo in the fight to stop the sex trafficking of juveniles in the Twin Cities area.

As WCCO reports, the charges filed Tuesday result from arrests undercover officers made at the Country Inn in Hastings this month. According to prosecutors, each of the men responded to ads placed on Craisglist or Backpage.com and offered to pay for sex with underage girls, the station says.

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A campaign involving several Twin Cities law enforcement agencies started last year and is called Operation Guardian Angel. The Star Tribune reports the initiative led to charges against 13 men in Washington County last week and authorities say another 50 cases are pending in the metro area.

Grant Snyder, an investigator with the Minneapolis Police Department's juvenile trafficking division, tells the newspaper the operation targets the demand side of sex trafficking – specifically those looking to purchase commercial sex from juveniles.

Four of the men charged Tuesday are from the Twin Cities area, one is from Zimmerman, and the other from Stone City, Iowa. They range in age from 24 to 48. The Star Tribune says all of them face charges of soliciting juveniles aged 13 to 15 for prostitution for which a conviction could bring up to ten years in prison.

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In announcing the charges, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom provided some numbers on the problem of juvenile sex trafficking.

According to the Pioneer Press, Backstrom says sex trafficking in the U.S. is a $30 billion a year industry and the average age of those forced into it is 12 to 14 years. In Minnesota, he added, the number of victims in an average day is an estimated 8,000 to 12,000.

Information and resources on sex trafficking

The Women's Foundation of Minnesota notes that the Twin Cities area has been identified by the FBI as one of the country's centers of child prostitution. The Foundation offers tips for recognizing the early stages of sex trafficking.

Minnesota has a Human Trafficking Task Force that meets quarterly. They have links to resources for victims and for addressing the demand.

Every two years the Office of Justice Programs provides a report on human trafficking in Minnesota and presents it to the Legislature.

WCCO reports investigators said Tuesday that hotel managers can help fight trafficking as well, by being alert to signs such as customers who pay with cash or bring no luggage and girls made up to appear older or showing signs of abuse.

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