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But the highest-profile story of late is that of Bionca Elizabethhelen Mixon, who was charged with playing a key role in the seven-day kidnapping of a 17-year-old Iowa girl forced to have sex with about 30 men in a St. Paul hotel room in January 2012.
“Mixon was doing most of the coercing,” Choi said, noting that the girl was “basically enslaved. She threatened the girl and beat her up.” When Mixon and her boyfriend, Tyree Erik Jones, left the hotel one day, the girl scribbled a note: “If you find me dead today, Biyonca Mickle [sic] did it. Tyree Erik Jones was involved.” This, Choi said firmly, “is a female who had crossed the line,” from being tangentially involved to being “substantially involved.”
“We have to do right by the victim and the community and enforce our laws,” said Choi, noting that prosecutions against traffickers doubled statewide from 2011 to 2012.
Yet the Mixon case demonstrates just how complex the work of prosecuting, or not prosecuting, female traffickers can be. Breaking Free, a Twin Cities area program that advocates for girls and women involved in sex trafficking, supported Mixon.
“She is a victim,” said Vednita Carter, Breaking Free founder and executive director. “Understanding where she came from, you learn that her choices were very limited. She was very involved, but the reasoning was a lot different from the guys. What was she facing if she didn’t do it?”
Mixon pleaded guilty and got a year in jail.
Carter and Choi do agree that goodwill between women’s advocates and law enforcement has increased, with a growing willingness to consider the complexities and nuance of human behavior. “As part of a developing case, we may consider dismissing the charge as we learn more information,” Choi said.
Carter appreciates that. “We are more of a team now, although we are always going to have our differences, such as the Mixon case,” she said. “We are at a point where we can sit down and talk about things. We’ve come a long way.”