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Continued: Shamed into silence

The girl is afraid that publicly acknowledging that she was one of the victims will hurt her reputation. Even after counseling, she turns some of her anger inward.

"I do blame myself for parts of it," she said. "When they threatened me, how come I just didn't tell them that I'd rather die?"

An emerging problem

Minnesota police got their first indication of the gang-rape problem in fall 1997, when a girl at a Hmong New Year's party told Sgt. Straka that boys had thrown blankets over her and her friends, then raped them. They had met the boys -- Hmong gang members -- through a telephone chatline. Officials learned that at least four girls had been raped. Eight Hmong men and boys aged 15 to 21 eventually pleaded guilty to kidnapping or sex crimes.

Similar crimes have happened elsewhere. In a 1999 Detroit case, nine Hmong males pleaded guilty to sexual assault after raping four Wisconsin girls and holding them captive. A tenth male pleaded guilty on a related charge. That same year in Fresno, Calif., 23 members of a Hmong gang were indicted on 826 counts involving the rape and prostitution of nine girls. Eighteen were convicted or pleaded guilty in the case.

A clash of cultures may play a role in the crimes, some scholars and Hmong leaders say.

For instance, in Hmong homelands, a boy who wanted to marry a girl could get his friends or relatives to help him capture her. Even if he raped her, the assault could be forgiven if he married her. Ilean Her, executive director of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, said she's afraid those practices get handed down in some families.

"Some [men] are going to end up in prison as long as the mentality is still there," Her said. "And lots of them are passing it on to their sons."

For the same reason, some Hmong mothers aren't sympathetic to daughters who have been raped, she said.

"The older ladies, they will tell you right away, 'When I was young, I was molested. And that's just what girls go through,' " she said.

Even if they resist, girls are blamed for allowing it to happen, studies say.

Moua said it's not strictly a cultural issue. Those who link Hmong gang rape and prostitution in America to Hmong culture are looking for excuses, she said.

"I don't think that Hmong culture is any more of an impediment to identifying solutions within the Hmong-American community than, say, culture is a factor in Catholic families or ... in the Latino community or ... in greater Minnesota in small farm families," she said.

Hmong culture does not condone gang rape or prostitution, she said, and others agree.

Some Hmong immigrants say American culture has been a bad influence. Gangs, violence and premarital sex have become big worries for Hmong parents, some of whom struggle with controlling their children.

Edinburgh said that nearly every Hmong girl she sees who has been raped or prostituted has at least one weeping parent.

"They're hurting," she said. "And they're hurting because they don't know how to help. They don't know what to do."

Brutal, widespread

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