The Advocates for Human Rights recently completed our first ever prosecutor trainings on sex trafficking in Minnesota. The two trainings, which took place in St. Paul and Duluth, were part of a two part Sex Trafficking in Minnesota: Prosecutors Training Project which included these trainings and an accompanying manual created by The Advocates for Human Rights in partnership with the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. The project was supported with a grant from the U.S. and Minnesota Office of Justice Programs. This project is a resource for prosecutors to learn about the dynamics of sex trafficking in Minnesota and how the Minnesota sex trafficking law is an additional tool to hold traffickers accountable and to protect trafficking victims within the criminal justice system.
The trainings reached capacity in the Twin Cities and drew over 70 participants total to its Twin Cities and Duluth locations. At the training, the prosecutors received our brand new Sex Trafficking in Minnesota: Prosecutor Manual, developed by The Advocates for Human Rights, designed to introduce prosecutors to the dynamics of sex trafficking in Minnesota and the Minnesota sex trafficking law. The manual includes information on how to identify sex trafficking cases and on how to use the Minnesota law to more effectively prosecute sex trafficking cases incorporating collaboration among law enforcement, victim service organizations, and victims when prosecuting sex trafficking cases. The manual outlines the current Minnesota sex trafficking law, recent changes to the law, and upcoming changes to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines that will ideally promote the use of Minnesota law to hold people who buy and sell other humans for sex accountable.
A strength of the project is the collaborative approach to addressing sex trafficking which is represented in the training itself. Speakers included stakeholders in the community as well as national experts. In the morning, Rami Badawy from the National District Attorney’s Association gave an overview of sex trafficking and introduced the federal law. Then local prosecutor Dennis Genereau from Carlton County talked about what trafficking looks like in MN and the MN law. The federal and the MN law were directly compared and contrasted so prosecutors can better identify sex trafficking cases under MN law.
Next, prosecutors heard from other stakeholders who discussed their role in fighting sex trafficking and how they cooperate with prosecutors to protect victims and hold traffickers accountable. Victim service organizations, including Breaking Free and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, gave the prosecutors an understanding of the trauma victims endure and specific issues facing American Indian women and girls who are trafficked. Law enforcement officers, Heather Weyker and John Bandemer with the St. Paul Police Department’s Human Trafficking/Vice Unit, presented on investigating sex trafficking cases and working with prosecutors to build a sex trafficking case. The discussion was especially engaging as our law enforcement representatives presented specific case examples and the investigative tools that were used to find those perpetrators.
Prosecutor participants had a chance to put the trainings into practice during the case study activity during which our speakers led a discussion of charging and investigating the case study examples. The case studies prompted people thinking of the various ways sex trafficking can manifest itself in MN and the various statutes that can be used to prosecute the traffickers, including the sex trafficking part of Minn. Stat. § 609.322. After planning and presenting on their own case studies, prosecutors heard from Rami Badawy, a national prosecutor and expert on training prosecutors on sex trafficking cases, who gave great insight into building a case from investigation and pretrial motions to trial and closing arguments. Finally, the training ended with a real life case example from Denise Timmins from the Iowa Attorney General’s office who presented on her successful prosecution of Iowa’s first ever human trafficking case.
In addition to the practical information, prosecutors were introduced the policy goals of changing the dialogue around sex trafficking in Minnesota. By using the Minnesota sex trafficking statutes, prosecutors can have a role in affecting policy and changing the dialogue surrounding the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls in Minnesota. Prosecuting traffickers under the specific Minnesota sex trafficking statutes identifies the crime for its true nature: a grave human rights violation; a form of modern-day slavery in which a victim is bought and sold for sex. Using the sex trafficking statutes, a prosecutor can obtain justice beyond a sentence by validating victims and offering protection as opposed to prosecution.
Prosecutors have impacted policy and public discourse addressing violence against women in the past. For example, by aggressively prosecuting domestic violence cases beginning in the 1970s, prosecutors contributed significantly to the change in society’s perception about domestic violence. By prosecuting these cases, prosecutors sent the message that domestic violence is not a private, family matter but, rather, a crime against the state for which offenders should be held accountable. By charging traffickers under the Minnesota sex trafficking statutes, prosecutors can continue to implement similar change and further ensure justice for victims.
Each participant’s evaluation indicated that the training would be useful in their work, increased their knowledge of sex trafficking, and helped them develop skills to identify and prosecute sex trafficking cases. One prosecutor added that she believes “a lot of our cases are connected to sex trafficking, [and I] am now much more aware.” This awareness is the first step towards identifying victims and ultimately holding perpetrators accountable under the Minnesota sex trafficking law.