The statistics are chilling. Over one-third of Native American girls are raped during their lifetimes. 48% of these women continue to live in violent relationships. And 70% of these crimes go unreported (U.S. Justice Department).
These were some of the statistics that Suzanne Koepplinger, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) used to begin her presentation to the members and guests of the Humanists of Minnesota society Saturday morning at the Lake Nokomis Community Center. The women and girls who enter MIRWC constitute a miniscule fraction of the 100,000 children and young women trafficked every day in the U.S. according to FBI statistics. The Twin Cities with its many ethnic groups, gangs, and proximity to international borders constitutes one of the most affected regions in the country.
These women are not your hapless Fantines, either, but “really, really rough.” Coerced into the sex trade as early as six years of age, these people (20% men and boys) often cannot read, have no GEDs, no homes, no job histories, and no welcome into job training programs. Though they have been victimized, they do not present themselves as victims. They are aggressive and rationalize the brutality of gang rape and domestic violence as something “that just happens.”
In anticipation of “very poor adult outcomes,” the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the Minnesota Departments of Health and of Human Services and 60 other advocates have proposed the “No Wrong Door” model to ensure that communities across the state have the skills and resources necessary to identify and serve these vulnerable youths. On a cost-effectiveness basis, Koepplinger says such a program conservatively could save taxpayers $2.6-2.7 million in the first and second years alone.
What’s needed first, however, is the public's change of perception on the issue. Few people enter into prostitution by choice. Those exploited young people who do must be regarded “not [as] criminals but victims of violence.” Beyond that, concerned citizens also should:
- Urge government officials to financially subsidize the No Wrong Door services
- Educate the media on the nature of the problem
- Reframe the crime of prostitution as a crime of violence
- Hold the perpetrators, i.e., pimps, parents, “boyfriends” and pedophiles, accountable.
Sexual demand for younger, more exotic children is trending every day. Several teenagers even now are being trafficked out of the Mall of America. Rather than a life style choice as “the world’s oldest profession,” Koepplinger terms prostitution “the world’s oldest oppression” and “a human problem, a social problem [that] really needs to be addressed as such.”