Washington County grapples with issue of sex trafficking
It’s a topic nobody wants to talk about. It brings up emotions of anger, confusion and disbelief. It happens in “good neighborhoods” and in “quiet suburbs.” The Washington County Attorney’s Office major crimes prosecutor Imran Ali and his team can’t deny the mountains of data: the demand for and the sale of sexual contact with juveniles has rapidly increased in the Twin Cities metro area, and more and more local youth are becoming victims of sex trafficking.
“There is no doubt that this problem takes on many forms,” Ali said.
While the vast majority of victims exploited by sex trafficking are young women and girls, niche markets have emerged that cater to specific demographics that include LGBT victims and victims by races and ethnicity.
On April 28, a 55-year-old Wisconsin man was arrested on felony prostitution charges after he
allegedly agreed to pay a 15-year-old boy $200 to have sex with him at a Stillwater hotel. While Ali said he cannot talk about the specific case, he has seen other cases that involve LGBT victims.
“The large majority of victims are girls but we are seeing social media apps and other Internet sites that are specific to boys and — while not so much in Washington County — with a cultural sensitivity,” Ali said. “This is an issue that affects boys and girls, all races and walks of life.”
Thanks to a grant the Washington County Attorney’s Office is using to fund the special unit, Ali works with a criminal analyst to go through Internet ads and websites to track online solicitations, gather data for law enforcement and to look for trends that better inform Ali and his team.
“In the first quarter of 2016, we have found 15,742 solicitation ads,” criminal analyst Aimee Schroeder said.