Thursday, October 4, 2007

MInnesota: Web Drives Human Trafficking

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA -- The Internet is making a devastating problem worse, according to officials at a conference, and Minnesota has not been immune.

St. Paul police officer Heather Weyker scrolls through the "personals" advertisements on the Internet every day, peering into the faces of women and girls offering their sexual services.

Weyker, a 10-year police veteran, said the sheer volume of prostituted women and girls has exploded in recent years, as the Internet has made the buying and selling of sex both anonymous and swift.

She said it's a driving force behind the growth in human trafficking in Minnesota -- both local and international -- which was the focus of a conference Friday in St. Paul.

"We're on Craig's List constantly, looking for girls who look young," Weyker said at the conference, describing the popular online classifieds site. "They always have captors. How many 13-year-old girls think, 'Hey, I think I'll put myself on Craig's List."'

While prostitution investigations for years have uncovered slave-like conditions, trafficking has emerged as a distinct category of crime, said participants at the conference, organized by Civil Society of St. Paul and several immigrant groups that work with victims. Trafficking involves individuals who are forced, defrauded or coerced into servitude...


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