Seventy-five percent of juvenile sex trafficking cases in Minneapolis in 2013 involved Native American victims even though Native people make up just 2 percent of the city’s population. Long-time advocate for Native girls and women, Susan Koepplinger, shared this statistic in a recent Minnesota Public Radio report highlighting a new sex trafficking study.
The study, “Mapping the Market for Sex with Trafficked Minor Girls in Minneapolis: Structures, Functions and Patterns,” dissects the multi-level criminal enterprise that targets primarily young, vulnerable girls of color from poor neighborhoods. Rather than focusing on numbers, the researchers examined the patterns and contours of sex trafficking according to the MPR story. Lauren Martin and Sandi Pierce are the two lead researchers of the report. Martin and Pierce examined court and police data from 2008 to 2013 and gathered anecdotal information from adult sources working directly with prostituted and trafficked youth. Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center and Othayonih Research worked in cooperation with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota to create the report.
Martin told MPR that the sex trafficking market is driven by the preferences of sex buyers.
Pierce agreed. She noted that sex buyers preference for “exotic” females make Native American girls especially desirable.
“Light skinned Native girls are the most versatile and can be marketed as several different ethnicities by pimps,” she said.
Pierce pointed to a quote by one of the reports interviewees, “Native girls are targeted by the johns, the gangs and the facilitators because they are exotic, they are ‘cool.’ Since the colonial era they have been portrayed as sexually loose, wild and free and easy. The attitude is that there’s no harm because they are built for this (prostitution).”
Pierce, president of Othayonih Research, is a long time researcher on sex trafficking especially of Native women and girls.
According to the researchers, the driving force behind their efforts was the realization that successful efforts aimed toward the intervention and prevention of the sexual exploitation of youth had to be driven by empirical information. They decided that understanding the sex trade as an industry that operates on market principals of demand and supply as well as a process through which the supply (girls) is developed, managed and delivered would be the best way to tease out data.
The report identifies and describes the who, where and how of domestic minor sex trafficking. The who includes three broad categories: market facilitators (pimps) juvenile victims and sex buyers (johns). The where provides information about where the trafficking happens including maps where juveniles are recruited and solicited, locations of sex transactions, residential locations of sex buyers, facilitators and victims.
The how examines the structure and function of the trafficking operations including how youth are recruited or captured and marketed. According to the report, researchers chose to use the language of market terminology in order to reflect facilitators and sex buyers’ attitudes and treatment of vulnerable youth as objects for sexual gratification and profit rather than human beings.
Some of their findings supported known information about trafficking:
Girls of color living in poverty in unsupportive home situations are the primary victims.
Most have prior experiences of rape/abuse, drug use, impaired physical and/or mental health and may be teen parents. About 1.3 of the victims were runaways.
Facilitators (pimps) and sex-buyers (johns) tend to be much older than the victims.
The average age of facilitators is 31; the average sex buyer is 41.
Although victims ranged in age from 9-17, the average age was 15.
Researchers identified different business models for marketing the girls including escort services, brothels (usually temporary locations) street prostitution and closed buyers clubs. The clubs provide the greatest protection for buyers and are structured much like other special interest group clubs. Although researchers found evidence of such clubs across all economic and ethnic groups, they are the preferred venue for white wealthy men. One interviewee told the researchers, “They (johns) pay for sex like they pay for golf. Sex is what they do with their free time.”
Business structures include single pimp operations, networks of pimps and corporate enterprises usually run by gangs engaged in other criminal enterprises such as theft, drugs, murder for hire, in addition to prostitution.
Some of the data revealed surprising and shocking information:
Higher income white men represent only a slightly higher percentage of johns. Buyers cut across all ethnic and income levels.
Facilitators (pimps) are mostly African American, Native American and multi-racial males, and often share similar backgrounds of their victims. There is evidence they may also have been victims of abuse.
Native American facilitators and buyers tend to be much closer in age to their victims than African American and Latino men.
Facilitators are often peer girls who are rewarded by their pimps for bringing in fresh recruits.
The community sometimes views facilitators as resources. For instance, gangs often force sex trafficking victims to shop lift cheap luxury items, the items are then sold at “booster sales” in low-income neighborhoods. Community members may come to depend on such sales and turn a blind eye to the gangs other criminal activities.
Pimps are highly strategic in their use of rape and gang rape as a means of conditioning and sorting out girls.
In Part II we discuss conclusions and recommendations from the report, which can be downloaded here.