Three years ago the Monitor ran a series on the global child-sex industry. Much of it focused on Asia. To our surprise, we also found juvenile prostitution thriving in one of America's most enlightened cities: Minneapolis.
Last week, the FBI and local police in that Midwest city indicted 15 people in what authorities call the largest prostitution ring ever prosecuted by the federal government.
Officials say the Minneapolis-based ring was a family-run organization that recruited hundreds of girls between 14 and 18 years old, mostly from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The ring served customers in 24 states and Canada and operated for 17 years.
Why Minneapolis? Many reasons are given. Some suggest the absurd notion that girls there are relatively more beautiful, and many of them are alienated from their parents and naive enough to be easy targets for silver-tongued pimps. The city is well-located in North America, and supplies the main market of middle-aged, white, affluent men living in suburbia. City officials have indirectly encouraged prostitution by trying to contain it in a certain area. The sex trade is widely seen as part of the economy. Gangs are increasing. Law enforcement has been lax.
Nationwide, prostitution rings are exploiting underage girls by the thousands. Crime experts say there is spotty enforcement of four relevant US laws passed two decades ago: the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation Act; the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act; the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act; and the Missing Children Act.
We commend the federal government's necessary crackdown on this hidden child-sex trade in the Midwest, and hope it will expand elsewhere.
But we also know that a deeper solution lies in creating loving families where daughters are not driven to the streets. Studies show the average age of entry into prostitution is 14 to 15. Most of those kids have run away from sexual or physical abuse at home. Law officers should also increase their focus on that root cause.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society