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Continued: Shamed into silence

She used her St. Paul clinic's files dating from 1998 to 2003 to analyze 245 cases of 10- to 14-year-olds who had been sexually abused by people outside of their family. Of those, 30 were Hmong girls, all but two of whom had been treated at the clinic in 2003, after investigators started referring Hmong girls there. Because it's not a random sample, the clinic's numbers cannot be used to gauge the relative size of the problem. But they shed light on the nature of the attacks.

"The sexual abuse experiences of very young adolescent Hmong girls were markedly more severe than those of their peers," Edinburgh wrote in a paper she presented at a conference in January.

A growing problem

A Star Tribune analysis using an FBI list of Hmong surnames shows that between 1999 and June 30, 2005, about 76 Hmong men and 21 Hmong teens were charged with sexually assaulting or prostituting girls in Ramsey County, which is home to nearly 60 percent of the state's Hmong.

Prosecutors counted 59 victims believed to be Hmong in those cases, but say there were other victims who didn't cooperate and whose assaults weren't charged. Fifteen victims were of other ethnicities.

Nearly all of the victims were young. More than half of the defendants were charged with crimes against victims younger than 13 years old; 81 of the 97 were charged with attacks against victims 15 and younger.

Secrecy and shame keep victims from coming forward, and authorities believe there are many more crimes undetected. So police search for possible victims.

"You've got to go out to the parks, go to the hotels, work curfews, work truancy," said Minnesota Gang Strike Force investigator Kevin Navara, who has concentrated on Asian gangs for six years.

Tru Thao, a Ramsey County social worker who often deals with runaway Hmong girls, said the problem of gang rape and prostitution is huge. "You know, to be honest, it's not something new. It's just been escalating," she said.

More Hmong refugees have arrived in Minnesota this year as part of a resettlement of 5,000 people, and officials worry about gangs victimizing them.

Der Her, volunteer coordinator at Ramsey County Sexual Offense Services, said the refugees will be "easier prey."

But Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, said new immigrants are more connected to their parents and traditions. "I don't have any concerns that they're going to fall prey," she said. "They have been yearning for an opportunity to come to this country. They're going to be the best students. They're going to be the best workers. They're going to fight their darndest."

Moua acknowledged that running away is a problem in the Hmong-American community, as are gangs and sexual assaults. "I am alarmed by every aspect of it," she said.

But she said that no one knows the relative scope of those problems because there are no good statistics. Moua said she would like to sponsor a bill in the Legislature to fund solutions, but she needs a better grasp of how big the problem is.

Money for after-school programs that once helped keep kids occupied has dwindled. And the federal government turned down a request from Edinburgh last fall to help victims get therapy and other services. Her employer, Midwest Children's Resource Center, a division of Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, cobbled together other grants from foundations.

Police and others who see the problem up close are frustrated.

Until recently, the larger community hadn't shown an interest in solving the problem, said Straka, a former state Gang Strike Force officer who now works Hmong rape and prostitution cases for St. Paul police. "I don't know why. Maybe it's because they are Hmong. Maybe it's because these are not little white girls from the suburbs."

Harrowing experience

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