ST. PAUL -- During the past 2½ years, the Ramsey County attorney’s office has trained more than 3,000 law enforcement and community advocates across Minnesota in processing sex-trafficking cases and helping victims.
The training events and conferences were held in more than 22 cities and funded by a $700,000 appropriation made by the Legislature in 2013.
“These officers right now, they are really excited and jazzed up about doing john stings and doing everything they can to ensure that they have the right mindset in dealing with people and children that are being sexually exploited,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said at a news conference Thursday, prior to the penultimate training session.
The nature of the training sessions depended on the specific needs of the people attending. They ranged from general awareness and victim identification for front-line officers, to sophisticated seminars on electronic evidence for investigators.
Training videos are also available to both the public and law enforcement online, Choi said.
In addition to the statewide training, the Ramsey County attorney’s office was also commissioned to develop a guide that will help law enforcement, state agencies and community partners establish procedures to follow when they encounter a potential victim of sex trafficking.
Those protocols are being developed, Choi said.
“This is about wrapping services around victims of human trafficking,” said St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. “The more systems we have in place to support those who are being prostituted and human trafficked, the more effective we’ll be in combating this crime.”
Ramsey County adopted a more victim-centered approach in 2011, when it shifted its focus from the prosecution of prostitutes and trafficked people to the prosecution of traffickers.
Around the same time, it also began using felony
child-solicitation laws against buyers, a strategy seen in
the underage sex stings conducted by Operation Guardian Angel and other law enforcement groups, Choi said.
Charges and convictions in sex-trafficking-related cases have increased statewide since then, he said.
But more is needed to prevent trafficking before it begins. Community members and individuals have a role to play as well and need to begin actively discussing how boys are raised to view women, he said.
“We cannot arrest and prosecute our way out of this problem,” Choi said. “We also have to think about how we change our culture. … Our work will never be done.”