Reporting Colin Smith
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s a story being written in the halls of schools across the Twin Cities — girls as young as 12 are being recruited as sex workers.
The FBI ranks Minnesota 13th in the nation for highest incidence of sex trafficking, a burgeoning black market industry threatening our youth.
It’s a story Janine Montgomery knows all too well. As a 13-year-old at Valley View Middle School, she was lured by a friend into the dark world of trafficking.
“I had absolutely no idea what I was in for,” Montgomery told WCCO Radio. “Intimidation, threats, gang rapes. I had to attend sex parties three or four nights a week.”
The double life continued for four years, her body was behind a desk during the day, peddled by pimps at night.
Infrastructure, commercialism and teens’ access to social media are largely to blame.
Access to Interstates 35 and 90 easily connects drivers to several other states, often a common factor among states that struggle with trafficking.
Minnesota’s modeling industry contributes too, Mongtomery said. Many pimps will pose as modeling agents to lure girls in.
And the explosion of social media has given traffickers a direct path into teens’ living room.
“Facebook is a huge issue,” Montgomery said. “Kids are so gullible that they will befriend anyone, whether they know them personally or not. It has really opened up the door for traffickers to get in.”
Now an Eagan resident, Montgomery helps girls caught in the same vicious cycle. Her ministry, New Beginnings, exposes the dark underbelly of trafficking and works with schools to promote awareness.
She has heard stories of girls — usually already caught in the trafficking web — propositioning their classmates.
“Girls will approach their friends and ask how interested they are in making a few extra dollars,” Montgomery said. “If they’re interested, they will skip class or leave during lunch, and have sex around the corner off-campus or even in the school parking lot.”
The idea of classmates as “recruiters” made headlines earlier this month when a Hopkins High School cheerleader tried to prostitute her teammate.
“We are finding that in 60 to 70 percent of cases, the victim knows the person who is trafficking them,” Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder said. “It’s a problem in every community.”
Police have discovered malls are a huge meeting ground, too. During her harrowing four years, Montgomery was often taken to Edina’s Southdale Mall, but she warns it happens across the Metro.
“In bathrooms at Burnsville Center or even the Mall of America, anywhere and anyhow, someone can get their hands on someone for sex it happens.”