Doug Wardlow, a Republican candidate for attorney general, claimed in a Jan. 22 commentary that “the Democrat-controlled office of the attorney general” has long not been engaged on issues related to sexual exploitation of women.
In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.
One of the first actions I took as attorney general in 1999 was to appoint the Hofstede Committee. Al Hofstede was the former mayor of Minneapolis when the infamous “Minnesota Connection” was exposed on 42nd Street in New York City. Hofstede’s committee was composed of representatives from several advocacy groups, including Breaking Free, PRIDE, Project Offstreets, Catholic Charities, A-STOP and District 202. The report was issued on Nov. 3, 1999; see tinyurl.com/hofstedecommittee
We interviewed many victims of sexual exploitation, as well as cops, social-service agencies and charitable organizations. We determined the following:
• The state has too few emergency shelters for young runaways.
• Young runaways are a prime target for exploitation.
• The gateway initially begins with runaways loitering at Mall of America and amusement parks, and eventually working at bars.
• Prostitution had a low priority in law enforcement at a time when gang crime was rampant in the state.
• The best way to address exploitation was to deter the runaways before they are exploited.
We proposed tougher penalties for exploitation. And we proposed more funding for cops who would be solely dedicated to the issue.
We discovered that the most effective deterrent, however, was to stop the girls, boys and women before they were exploited. The committee recommended a three-phase program. Phase One was an emergency shelter for young runaways who were loitering at shopping centers (they hide in plain sight). Once at the site, a social worker (sometimes a former prostitute) would sit down with such children, talk about their home lives, and encourage them to call home and to eventually return home, usually with a reliable relative, teacher, counselor or friend. Phase Two involved transitional housing runaways who simply had no safe home to go to. And Phase Three involved a long-term stabilization program.
State Sen. Randy Kelly, later mayor of St. Paul, provided the necessary legislative leadership to get the first stage funded. The shelter had a van go to the Mall of America with a scout who would spot the loitering girls (and boys) and bring them back to the safe house. The scout not only spotted the runaways but also the creeps who would “befriend” the girl and eventually destroy her. All who were involved in battling this exploitation thought the initiative was accomplishing its mission.
Unfortunately, faced with budget shortfalls in 2003, the Republican House rejected any further funding of the effort. And the program died, not to be funded again until enactment of the Safe Harbor Law in 2011.
The Hofstede Committee Report on sexual exploitation has been a leading sourcebook in this country for virtually every treatise written on the subject.
Wardlow also should be advised that we proposed that the attorney general’s office be given jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute sexual trafficking. The Legislature rejected this request, largely because county attorneys felt such empowerment would be an encroachment on their jurisdiction.
Mike Hatch, a Democrat, was Minnesota’s attorney general from 1999 to 2007.