Doug Wardlow, a candidate this year for Minnesota attorney general, is right (“Focus on sex trafficking beyond the Super Bowl,” Jan. 22): Minnesota can do more to address sex trafficking, and the attorney general’s office wants to help.
While the Legislature declined to grant criminal jurisdiction to prosecute sex trafficking to the attorney general’s office, Attorney General Lori Swanson has been very active in standing up for victims.
In 2007, Swanson filed an amicus brief in U.S. vs. Williams, which upheld the prohibition on child pornography in the PROTECT Act. Swanson also drafted legislation to prevent sexual predators from having unfettered online access to children. Before this law, perpetrators were prohibited from propositioning children for sex, but not from “grooming” them for a sexual encounter.
In 2008, she reached an agreement, along with several other attorneys general, forcing MySpace to delete the profiles of sex offenders and protecting private profiles of children.
In 2009, Swanson drafted a law to give law enforcement more tools to catch offenders who sexually exploit children online.
In 2010, she was an early advocate in the effort to shut down the adult services section of Backpage, at the time called the largest marketplace for sex trafficking. She also filed a brief that year in Carr vs. U.S., upholding laws that required sex offenders to re-register after moving.
In 2011, Swanson joined other attorneys general and Pillars of Hope to ask Congress to attack human slavery and sex trafficking with increased funding. She also filed a brief in Camreta vs. Greene, which held that a social worker didn’t need parental permission when interviewing a child about sexual exploitation at home.
In 2013, she pushed Congress to repeal the federal immunity that websites like Backpage hide behind to create an online marketplace for exploitation. That year, she also joined other attorneys general asking Congress to increase funding for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
In 2014, Swanson joined colleagues asking Congress to enact the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act to require website operators to identify predators who post solicitations. That year, she also filed a brief in Paroline vs. U.S., arguing that victims should be able to secure full compensation from each person who exploited them.
In 2016, Swanson filed a brief in Minnesota vs. Muccio, which upheld the law she had drafted to prohibit internet grooming of children.
In the last year, she joined colleagues to once again lobby Congress to repeal the “publisher’s exemption” website operators hide behind to create an online marketplace for traffickers. She published “Let’s Put a Red Light on Sex Trafficking” to raise awareness. She educates law enforcement on the topic, most recently with an article in the Minnesota Police Journal. She has assigned attorneys to work with the Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force. She recently filed a brief in U.S. vs. Microsoft, arguing that internet companies storing data on overseas servers must produce communications to law enforcement when a search warrant targets sex traffickers.
While the attorney general’s office is prohibited from filing prosecutions under the criminal laws, it has assisted in hundreds of cases involving the civil commitment of sex predators. Last year, Swanson prevailed in a federal case, Karsjens vs. Minnesota, that questioned the constitutionality of the state offender commitment laws.
Sex traffickers exploit the vulnerable. About 40 percent of sex-trafficking victims are minors. Child homelessness is a big factor in who becomes a victim. Some members of our community are more likely than others to encounter sex-trafficking victims. One improvement Minnesota can make is to train health care professionals, educators and law enforcement on how to detect the signs and intervene.
Attorney General Swanson is committed to the continued attack on sexual exploitation.
Ben Wogsland is director of government affairs in the Minnesota attorney general’s office.