A horrific problem is present in our region

Eight men were recently arrested during an undercover sex sting operation in Springfield. And it was just last June when the Walnut Grove police chief was caught up in a similar sting operation in Redwood County. He was one of three men arrested.

All of these men will have their day in court. But one thing is clear right now — there is a market in rural Minnesota for sex with underage girls. This is no longer just a big-city problem.

In the past decade, states have dramatically changed laws targeting the sex trade to distinguish between voluntary prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls who are forced or coerced into selling sex. Victims can be trafficked locally or across state lines by pimps or organized crime syndicates.

The new laws have given police a new mission. Instead of working to bust prostitutes, in many states they now focus on identifying sex trafficking victims and disrupting the system that produces them.

A state of Washington prosecutor urges that the focus be put on arresting buyers. That’s exactly what police agencies are attempting to do right here in southwest Minnesota.

In the recent case in Springfield, undercover investigators acted as 16-year-old females willing to trade sex or sex acts for money or narcotics. After suspects initiated email conversations, they were directed to text message undercover agents at their cellular number, according to court documents.

This is a good start in dealing with a disgusting problem. But more can be done. More education is needed to keep youth from falling into common traps. Many girls involved in prostitution come from broken homes and may be runaways trying to survive. Meanwhile, traffickers are “master manipulators” who know how to target girls who have tough home lives or have trouble fitting in with their peers. Many girls may initially think of men as boyfriends, but they quickly become their pimps.

Also, more funding should be funneled to area police departments so more can be done to attack the apparent existing market for sex with underage youths.

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