Category Archives: Prostitution

Hawaii: Cops Can’t Have Sex with Prostitutes Anymore

By OSKAR GARCIA Associated Press

A key Hawaii lawmaker considering an anti-prostitution bill says he and Honolulu police have agreed to get rid of a longtime exemption that allowed officers to have sex with prostitutes.

State Sen. Clayton Hee, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he and police agreed at a meeting that the exemption ran contrary to popular opinion.

Honolulu police said during the meeting that they’re OK with making it expressly illegal for officers to have sex with prostitutes, as long as undercover officers can still say they’ll have sex so they can make arrests.

Honolulu police spokeswoman Teresa Bell told The Associated Press that officers have never been allowed to have sex with prostitutes under departmental rules, so making it illegal won’t change how officers operate.

“That’s exactly what we wanted and how we’ve been conducting our investigations — with the verbal offer,” Bell said.

Bell said Hee met with officers who submitted written and oral testimony to a House committee earlier in the legislative session.

The bill passed the House without a clause that would have made sex with prostitutes illegal for officers after police lobbied to have the language removed, arguing it would inhibit undercover investigations by giving criminals knowledge of what police can and cannot do.

At a Senate hearing last week, lawmakers and members of the public expressed outrage at the exemption after the AP reported on police officers’ lobbying to keep it unchanged. Hee vowed at the hearing to make the practice illegal.

Hee said the version of the bill that moves through his committee Friday will remove sexual penetration from the police exemption from prostitution laws, leaving police with the ability to solicit sex in the course of an investigation.

“I suppose that in retrospect the police probably feel somewhat embarrassed about this whole situation,” Hee said. “But, thankfully, the issue has been brought to light and the behavior has been addressed.

“The police support the idea that sexual penetration shall not be an exempt permitted behavior by the police in making arrests on prostitutes,” Hee said. “They agree this tool is not an appropriate tool for their toolbox.”

Officers who have sex with prostitutes are subject to internal investigation and, on a case-by-case basis, the possibility of being fired or suspended, Bell said. But Bell said the department did not know of any cases in recent memory in which an officer was disciplined for having sexual contact with a prostitute.

Bell said the department thought the clause they pushed to be removed from the bill was too vague.

Hawaii’s current anti-prostitution law includes the exemption: “This section shall not apply to any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties.”

The clause that was removed reads, “unless the action includes sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse.”

Bell said the department is dedicated to working with integrity, respect and fairness and didn’t want the ability to have sex with prostitutes.

“That’s not something that we wanted anyway; that was just there,” Bell said. “The only thing that we had a problem with was the verbal part.”

Kathryn Xian, director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said she was surprised police agreed to changing the law.

“In all of the versions of the language, never did it exclude their ability to solicit verbally,” said Xian, a candidate for Congress who drafted the language changing the exemption.

80 Arrested in Prostitution Sting

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A collage of many of the 80 suspects arrested in a Polk County Sheriff’s Office prostitution sting. (Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

Detectives in Florida’s Polk County conducted a four day prostitution investigation that resulted in the arrests of 80 suspects, as well as rescuing at least one trafficked victim.

The investigation occurred between December 12th and December 15th, resulting in a myriad of charges, including soliciting for prostitution, soliciting another to commit a lewd act, deriving proceeds from prostitution and aiding/abetting prostitution.

Undercover detectives posted ads on various websites in an effort to arrest 24 men or “Johns,” as well as others contributing to the illegal industry.

WFLA reports that 66 percent of those arrested have criminal pasts, totaling over 395 crimes committed.

Polk Country Sheriff Grady Judd told WFLA, “Prostitution is not a victimless crime… We arrested a 16-year-old girl from Orlando on Saturday for prostitution. She was driven to our undercover location by a 20-year-old man. The teen is clearly a victim of sex trafficking.”

Judd went on to inform WFLA that the man responsible for driving the teenage victim was arrested and the police force will continue to do everything they can to get her help, as well as track down those involved in the trafficking.

Saving Child Prostitutes

FILE – In this Nov. 4, 2009 file photo, police talk to two young women before arresting them for prostitution in Dallas. The young woman second from left turned out to be underage at the time of her arrest. In a city known as a national hotbed for prostitution, a special Dallas police unit is trying new approaches to identify, reach and save underage girls being lured into the street life. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

It is hardly a victimless crime, and one the world has seen play out time and time again. A similar investigation in Canada resulted in the rescue of 386 children — and subsequently 348 arrests — of  those who were involved in child pornography.

As devastating as these reports seem, they are also in some ways victorious.

Zach Hiner, a spokesperson for Prevent Child Abuse America, said, “When people are actively aware of what’s going on in the world around them, and more importantly, learn more about what they can do to help change or improve the world, great things will happen.”

The more people hear about sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution crimes, it motivates them into a place of action. In many ways, that motivation stems from news reports like the one following Florida’s recent crackdown.

Hiner explains, “By reporting on events in a way that makes everyone realize how close we are to each other, but also how a small bit of time and energy can go a very long way, the media can help us achieve our goal of creating a society which gives children and families the best chance to succeed.”

 

Saving Bobbi: One Cop’s Determination (Part 3)

Minneapolis police Sgt. Grant Snyder peered through a hotel room window during a stakeout on an alleged sex-trafficking case.

Pam Louwagie

Saving Bobbi: One Cop’s Determination

Sgt. Grant Snyder scrolled through Internet ads and Facebook pages in late July 2012, searching for any sign of recent activity by 17-year-old runaway Bobbi Larson and her friend.

The digital age has made it easier for sex traffickers to hide their business, but it also has handed police new tools. Snyder tried a range of digital techniques.

He tapped away at the laptop on his desk in the Crimes Against Children Unit of the Minneapolis Police Department, searching for leads. Sometimes he sat in his unmarked car between calls on other cases, using a tracking app on his iPhone to hunt for cellphones of suspected victims and traffickers.

In Bobbi’s case, the big break came the morning of July 28, when a number associated with Bobbi’s friend was discovered in a Backpage.com ad. He tracked the cellphone to a house on Oliver Avenue in north Minneapolis.

As Snyder pulled up and recognized Meranda Warborg in the back yard, he felt even more certain that the girls he had been looking for were sex-trafficking victims. Warborg had been connected to, but was not charged, in one of his previous cases.

“We’re looking for two girls,” Snyder remembers telling Warborg as he approached her.

She nodded toward the back door. “Inside,” she said.

There he found the girls in a back bedroom of the house. Beneath a veneer of makeup and lingerie, Snyder said, they looked gaunt, dazed and tired.

As he walked them out of the house and into squad cars, Snyder was already planning how he could chip away at the defensiveness they had developed to survive on the streets.

Bobbi Larson enthusiastically greeted Sgt. Grant Snyder as they met for coffee near downtown Minneapolis.

A story spills out

Snyder led Bobbi through Minneapolis City Hall, a granite marvel of castle-like architecture, and into the first floor police station.

He found an interview room where he could sequester her from distractions — a windowless cubbyhole the size of a large closet. He asked her to sit down at a small round table and prepared to disarm her with an approach honed over years of interviews with girls caught in similar circumstances.

She wasn’t going to get in trouble, Snyder told her calmly. He was concerned about her. She didn’t have to live that life if she didn’t want to. Could he help her get away from it?

Bobbi was in rough shape, descending from her meth high. She kept putting her head down on the table, Snyder recalled, and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

“My parents told me all I hang around are bad influences on me, and now that’s what I turned out to be,” she sobbed on a digital recording of the conversation.

“You know, I’ve dealt with a lot of young ladies…. I’m gonna tell ya: People don’t walk down this road for no reason,” Snyder told her. “You don’t just walk into the life and say ‘You know what? I want to be treated like shit, I want people to abuse me.’ You don’t walk into that.”

Bobbi told him the story of what had happened after she persuaded a friend to run from their treatment program in Eau Claire. How she ended up turning tricks and giving money to a man she thought loved her. How she ended up at the house in north Minneapolis.

It was clear to Snyder that Bobbi felt ashamed as she fought back her tears. She knew she was doing illegal things, she said. She understood that cops might not look kindly upon her.

“I’m not doing anything right in this situation,” she said.

Again and again, Snyder interrupted their conversation to remind her that she was a victim.

“Any guy that allows a young lady like yourself to be victimized like that … that speaks of their character. You understand that, right?” he told her. “The guys that paid you, they’re rapists. They’re not your friends. They’re not your customers. They’re rapists. You’re a 17- year-old girl. K? That’s unconscionable.”

Bobbi isn’t sure even now why her story came tumbling out to Snyder that day. Maybe it was because he didn’t look like a cop. Maybe it was because he spoke with concern in his voice, not authority. For some reason, she liked him and she felt he was looking out for her.

Most of the hundreds of girls he had interviewed over the years had been battered or abused at some point in their lives — hurt so badly that they felt worthless and were vulnerable to the sex trade. He started by assuming that was true for Bobbi, too.

“What I want you to understand is that all this stuff isn’t your fault, K? … This is why a guy shouldn’t hire women for prostitution, because you come from an abusive background, don’t ya?” he asked.

Bobbi paused. “I’ve never gotten abused by family,” she offered.

“Doesn’t matter,” Snyder said. “Were you abused by anyone?

Bobbi stammered. She wouldn’t go there.

“I mean, I don’t know,” she said. “Not really. I mean I’ve been in serious situations, but never really like, I don’t know.”

Bobbi quickly cut off Snyder’s line of questioning by saying she had to use the bathroom.

Bobbi Larson left her parents’ home on her way to high school graduation in Two Harbors, Minn. Sgt. Grant Snyder thought “she sounded like a kid that had a new chance.”

It had taken years before she admitted to her parents during treatment that before it all started, when she was just 14, two older boys had assaulted her. But she didn’t tell Snyder about it that day.

After the initial interview, Snyder didn’t know what to do with Bobbi. She was a sex-trafficking victim, so he didn’t want to punish her by putting her in a detention facility. But he also knew she was a runaway risk. Only two beds were dedicated for juveniles rescued from sex trafficking throughout the state — hosted by the nonprofit group Breaking Free in St. Paul.

Breaking Free differs from traditional shelters and chemical dependency programs because it focuses directly on sex-trafficking victims. Some women who walk in the door are addicted to the fast lifestyle, drugs and quick money that selling sex brings. Most have experienced trauma or violence along the way, but have trouble seeing themselves as exploited by pimps acting like boyfriends. Breaking Free helps them out of that lifestyle and offers group therapy with others who have had similar experiences.

Bobbi might want what Breaking Free offered someday, Snyder knew. But it was not a locked facility and with Bobbi’s history of running away, it was too early to take her there. He consulted an attorney in the county’s child protection office, then decided to take Bobbi a few blocks away to detox at Hennepin County Medical Center that night, where she could get a medical check. Later, authorities moved her to a cell at the juvenile detention center next door, a place where she could be kept safe.

When Snyder sat down with Bobbi a few days later to interview her again, he saw something hopeful: “She sounded like a kid that had a new chance.”

Bobbi told Snyder she wouldn’t run away again. But Snyder had worked with a lot of troubled kids over the years, and he knew it probably wouldn’t be that simple. Not with her drug addiction, her capacity to slip out of treatment programs, the way she taxed the patience of adults who tried to help her.

Snyder looked Bobbi in the eye and guaranteed that if she ran again, he would find her.

Bobbi says she regrets the tattoo that marks her right eye, which was done after she met some gang members while living as a runaway.

Back to the streets

At the end of July, Snyder took Bobbi on a two-hour drive to the PORT Group Home in Brainerd, where girls are placed in a building with a spacious back yard and views of the Mississippi River.

It’s a structured environment offering such things as behavior modification, respite care and counseling. Although it’s not a locked facility, Snyder and her parents, Scott and Deanna Larson, thought she would be safe there for the time being.

Her stay didn’t last long. She left almost immediately. Although Bobbi had fled “E” in Minneapolis, she was still pining for this man who had said he cared about her. She called him to come and get her, telling him to phone the group home posing as her father.

When he called, group home workers recognized it wasn’t her father’s voice and called Deanna. She notified Snyder.

Authorities intercepted E on his way north, before he could get to Bobbi. But by the time they made it to Brainerd, Bobbi had walked out the door and onto the streets on her own, looking for a fix.

Meth gives users a quick surge of euphoria that can last for hours, making it one of the most highly addictive amphetamines, said David Ferguson, professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota. It alters brain chemistry so that users begin to feel good about bad situations. But it takes higher and higher doses to get to that same high again.

Bobbi met a woman who was being temporarily housed at a local hotel and stayed with her for a few days, then later in an apartment. They smoked meth together. After about a week, Bobbi called another man she had met in the Twin Cities to come and get her.

She ended up working for him, too, until he gave her a bloody lip and she left.

Once again, Bobbi was drifting from one man to another, alone this time, desperate for drugs and vulnerable to feigned affection.

A downward spiral

Bobbi stood at a bus stop in mid-August 2012 with some new-found male friends in North Minneapolis.

A black Jeep pulled up, and once again Bobbi climbed into a stranger’s car. The driver introduced himself as “Trap.” A tall, thin man in the passenger’s seat was called “Red.” Bobbi would later describe what happened next:

The three arrived at a house on 22nd Ave. N., decorated in cheer and innocence. Aqua gingerbread trim framed the windows. Children’s toys were strewn in the yard. A little white picket fence sectioned off some scrubby brush.

It was Red’s mother’s house, they told Bobbi, but she was out of town. Much of what happened over her two or three days there is a blur, Bobbi admits.

The same progression of drugs, Backpage.com and sex trafficking began to play out in the little house. But Red and Trap were demanding and physically violent, Bobbi told police. They assaulted her, forcing her to do things that made her throw up. She would one day tell police that after that particularly brutal session with the two men, she kicked them off of her and ran to the bathroom. She turned on the shower and dropped to her knees, lingering under the stream of water.

“Well, she can take it. We’ve just gotta work on it a little bit,” she recalled hearing one of the men say to the other later that night.

Just two blocks away, parents pushed toddlers on swings at a playground and children painted pictures and played games at a Boys & Girls Club, oblivious to what was happening to Bobbi nearby. She said about 10 men arrived at the little house and took turns with her. The money would go to Red and Trap.

“I just kind of gave up,” Bobbi recalled.

Planning to try to leave the house, she started packing up her things when Trap and Red confronted her, she told police.

She recounted their heated, dangerous exchange in her police interview:

“What do you think you’re doing? You still gotta make money,” Red and Trap said while pushing her to the bed.

“Man, get the [expletive] out of my face,” she yelled back.

“What’s with the attitude? No bitch is supposed to have an attitude towards us.”

“What do you expect, me getting pushed around … being with old, old men and getting money for it and then having to give it all to you guys. What do you expect, me to not have an attitude or whatever?”

Trap left the room and came back with a handgun and pointed it at her, she told police:

“Whoa, what the [expletive] do you think you’re doing?” she asked, calming her voice. “I’ll give you no attitude, but I don’t understand why you just had to pull a gun on me.”

Red grabbed a gun from his waistband.

“You better be making $500 in the next couple hours,” he told her, adding “This is bullshit. I don’t understand why you’re packing.”

With the men still in the room, she used Red’s phone to text a previous trick an urgent message: This is an emergency. You need to come pick me up NOW.

A man came to get her and took her to a hotel in Brooklyn Center.

Bobbi didn’t try to go home to her parents, knowing they would be upset that she had run away and would put her right back in treatment. She couldn’t stand the thought of going back there, even though she understood they were doing what they thought was best.

She started surviving the only way she knew, by posting an ad on Backpage.com.

Sgt. Grant Snyder photographed parking lot activity from a hotel room during a sex-trafficking stakeout.

Arresting the pimps

In mid-August, inside Grant Snyder’s suburban home, his wife was sitting in the living room scrolling through ads on Backpage.com on her laptop, engrossed by the case her husband was working on. She spotted Bobbi’s advertisement.

Snyder called the number and did his best to imitate a Texas accent, hoping Bobbi wouldn’t recognize his voice. She didn’t, and invited the man she thought was in town on business to the hotel.

Police showed up instead.

Eventually, they arrested Trap, 33, whose real name is Robert Virgil Love, and Red, 30, whose name is Jeffrey John Latawiec.

Latawiec told police that Bobbi belonged to Love because Love had picked her up in the Jeep on the corner in north Minneapolis. He said Love would “go first” in having sex with Bobbi because she was his girl. Latawiec acknowledged in the police interview that he got paid after Bobbi turned tricks. “Of course,” he told police. “I mean, you ain’t gonna be in my house doing that shit” without paying for it, he said.

In a telephone interview from the state prison in St. Cloud, Latawiec said he and Love never acted as pimps. Sex with Bobbi was consensual, he said, and they never pulled guns on her. Latawiec said he didn’t use drugs with her. He said only one or two patrons came to the house, she was there only about a day and when he learned Bobbi was turning tricks he demanded she leave. She paid him what she thought she owed him for food and shelter, he said. Love and Warborg declined to take calls to the Hennepin County workhouse seeking comment for this story.

The cases of Robinson, Warborg, Latawiec and Love began to weave through the Hennepin County court system, a long process that would unfold from the summer of 2012 through autumn of 2013.

In recent years, the approach of prosecutors toward traffickers has intensified, said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “I think we’re more aggressive in the charging. I think we’re a little bit more aggressive in what we’re asking for in terms of sentences,” he said. “I think we’re more aware of how exploitive this is.”

As the legal process wore on, Snyder and others did their best to wrest Bobbi from the grip of addiction and life on the streets.

All the while, the powerful coalition that had formed in Minnesota to fight sex trafficking was working to make sure this damaging, dirty world was brought sharply into public consciousness.

Jeffrey John “Red” Latawiec, 30
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 6 years.

Robert Virgil “Trap” Love, 33
Plea: Guilty, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 10 years, 10 months in prison, suspended for 10 years of probation, including 180 days in workhouse.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi grew more creative in his efforts to overhaul prosecution of pimps and treatment of girls who were trafficked, including a proposal to file civil no-contact orders against alleged perpetrators when authorities needed more time to build cases.

Groups around the state that had been working against child sex trafficking began to close ranks.

Sisters in the Order of St. Francis in Rochester, wielding PowerPoint presentations, held seminars featuring a former trafficking victim. They drew crowds at local libraries and community colleges, where they aimed to make people aware that sex trafficking was going on locally and raise money to get the word out.

The Minnesota Trucking Association had signed on to the national “Truckers Against Trafficking” campaign, and drivers were being taught how to spot and help the women they once called “lot lizards” — those who roamed truck stops along the interstate highway corridors, knocking on the doors of big-rig cabs offering sex for money.

Momentum for change in Minnesota was building.

Decked out in a black suit coat and tie, Snyder addressed advocates fighting trafficking last May in a meeting room at the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown St. Paul.

He told the harrowing story of an underage sex-trafficking victim from northern Minnesota identified as “Bobbi.”

“What Bobbi’s story illustrates is the incredible depth of our failings as law enforcement,” Snyder said. “Bobbi was a kid that had all of the vulnerabilities up front.”

After police pulled Bobbi from the streets of Minneapolis, he explained, “we got her into what at that time appeared to be our best alternative, and that was a treatment program up in northern Minnesota. That didn’t work for Bobbi and she escaped from there and eventually ended up back on the streets where we had to rescue her again. This is the backdrop against which we’ve had to learn to do our job better.”

More than 700 advocates showed up during the weekend conference put on by Breaking Free. They were trying to convince the Minnesota Legislature to put more money toward combatting sex trafficking and helping victims. Later that month they succeeded, when lawmakers agreed to spend $2.8 million — the largest state investment in the country.

The money will add 12 to 14 beds for sex-trafficked children in safe facilities with counselors who understand their special trauma.

The Legislature also changed state law so that any prostituted person under the age of 18 would be treated as a victim. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., recently announced plans to introduce legislation to take Minnesota’s “Safe Harbor Law” model national. U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., introduced a bill in July intended to prevent runaways from being pulled into the sex trade and help those caught in it to escape for good.

Police and prosecutors already had treated Bobbi as a victim while building cases against the four people accused of being her pimps.

A glimpse of hope

Bobbi kept talking to Snyder on the phone as prosecutors put the cases together.

They spoke to each other as if they were family. Instead of answering her calls with a typical “hello,” Snyder would immediately show concern: “Hey, you OK?”

Bobbi grew anxious when she thought she might have to face the defendants in court and tell the world what she had been through. She continued treatment for drug addiction as well as mental health counseling. The trauma, guilt and shame weighed heavily on her mind, making the temptation to get high even stronger.

The Larsons and administrators at Two Harbors High School worked to design an academic program that would allow her to take classes along with her counseling so she could graduate with her class. She hoped to go to cosmetology school. Then, maybe someday, she said, she could work with police on sex-trafficking cases.

The possibility of a brighter future lay ahead. Graduation day was fast approaching. But Bobbi’s family wondered if she could make it over the long haul. Now that she was 18 and an adult, mistakes with the law would go on her record. The stakes would be higher.

Could Bobbi Larson save herself?

Part 4 tomorrow…

Saving Bobbi: Lured by Drugs, Used by Pimps (part 2)

When Bobbi Larson talks about her experiences with sex trafficking, her face often takes on a stony look. She examined an evidence bag of her clothes at the Minneapolis Police Department.

Pam Louwagie

Saving Bobbi: Part 2

Scott and Deanna Larson lay in bed unable to sleep, wondering where Bobbi was after she ditched yet another treatment center.

It was early July 2012 and they had thought their daughter was safely tucked inside Eau Claire Academy, a school and treatment center for at-risk youth in Wisconsin. But that evening, the phone rang and they learned she had run away again.

Feeling helpless, their thoughts raced. Was Bobbi hurting? Were people harming her? Would her drugged-out friends rob the Larsons’ house, as they had done once before?

As usual, Bobbi had been reported missing to the authorities, but runaways didn’t seem to be a priority. Teenagers run and teenagers come back, Scott was once told.

They began to hope Bobbi would get arrested on something minor, just so they would know she was safe.

As they dozed off, they kept a .40-caliber and a 9-millimeter handgun nearby just in case.

Even in Scott’s most troubled imaginings, he didn’t understand how quickly a runaway girl like Bobbi, with her ADHD and fetal alcohol problems, could be targeted by smooth-talking pimps or other predators. About a third of runaway teens, some advocacy groups maintain, will be approached within 48 hours on the street.

The mind of a pimp

Wearing a stylish pullover and cargo shorts, there was nothing to identify this man settling into a chair at a sidewalk cafe near the Mississippi as a pimp.

He was clean and friendly. Well-spoken. His only bling was a pair of diamond earrings. Modern-day pimps, he explained, do not look like gaudy pimps of the ’80s. They look like nice guys. Like him.

A change of heart had caused him to stop pimping and start working with police, he explained, which meant he could not be identified. But he agreed to an interview. His daughters were growing up, he said, and he wanted to warn them away from guys like him. He swore he was remorseful about what he had done.

He ordered a Jameson and tossed a “hello” to a thin girl in her 20s as she walked by, bashful eyes peeking from under bobbed hair dyed bright pink. He was skilled at spotting girls like that, and that’s what he was there to talk about: How pimps are deliberate masters at finding, tricking and enslaving vulnerable girls and young women into the sex trade.

Girls like Bobbi Larson.

Bobbi expressed frustration after struggling with her parents over her decision not to go home to visit her dad on Father’s Day.

“You look for someone who is, um …” he paused, searching for the right word. “Socially distant.” He leaned back, satisfied at that description. “Someone who’s wearing hip hop clothes, or wearing country clothes or raggedy, or wearing holey clothes. Her hair is matted. Her hair is dirty. … You can smell her.”

Finding a girl to approach is easy, he said, scanning Minneapolis’ cobbled Main Street. “From the suburbs they don’t know the difference,” he said. “I’m looking for the naïve daughter that you send back and forth to the bus stop.”

He asked open-ended questions to figure out a girl’s needs, then met them. If she wanted to get high, he offered drugs. He gave her affection, made her feel special and was reliable. All things a runaway teen like Bobbi might crave.

After showering attention on a girl, he carefully chose the right moment to suggest she help him out. “You put it up as, ‘Hey look man, you’re my woman, this is what we have to do to get money. You’re not a ho,’ ” he said. “ ‘Baby … I need to buy us this car, get us this crib.’ ”

They were techniques used by many pimps, who moved from that conversation to taking photos of a girl in sexy lingerie and putting an ad on a website, such as Backpage.com, where people pay to post want ads for everything from selling furniture to hiring for jobs. An adult section peddles “escorts” and “body rubs.”

It never took long before the phone started jangling with men eager to pay for sex.

“You really think about what you’re actually putting [a girl] through. You’re sending her in here and dealing with fat dudes, pedophiles, rapists, freaky dudes, nasty, you know.”

Other pimps — those known as gorilla pimps — take a girl far away from home and everything she knows, then beat her if she resists working for him. “Next thing you know, she’s completely loyal,” he said.

But he preferred manipulating with attention, rather than intimidation.

It’s a technique men used again and again with Bobbi Larson.

Some men gave Bobbi Larson and a friend a ride to downtown Minneapolis, dropping them off outside SexWorld, a store on Washington Avenue selling adult products and entertainment.

Descent into trafficking

Newly savvy about using dating websites to hitch rides, Bobbi said she posted a message in July 2012, offering $100 for a ride from the Eau Claire school for at-risk youth to the Twin Cities. She persuaded a friend to go with her.

She thought the man who offered the ride looked decent, but then convinced him to stop at a gas station after they saw he had duct tape and garbage bags in his car. Early that morning, they found another ride, from a man who looked nicer to them.

When they arrived in St. Paul, Bobbi told the driver they needed to use a cash machine to get the $100 to pay him. The girls ducked into an office tower with a U.S. Bank sign on it, but quickly left through a different door.

They found a ride to downtown Minneapolis from some men who dropped them off outside SexWorld, a store selling adult products and entertainment on Washington Avenue in the North Loop. Bobbi would later describe what she recalled happening next:

A man drove up, introduced himself as “E,” and invited them to his hotel room. He was in his 30s, with a shaved head and slight beard. Bobbi thought he was handsome.

At the Red Roof Inn inPlymouth, E pulled out a bag of cocaine and put some on the hotel room counter, Bobbi said. She and her friend snorted some. Buzzing with the high, Bobbi remembered hearing E tell a friend that they should “try these girls out and see if they’re even worth it.”

Bobbi knew that meant they wanted sex. She wanted more of E’s cocaine, so she worked hard to please him that night.

Later, she and her friend showered, got some food and watched TV — a reprieve of normalcy and luxury from life on the streets.

Soon E told the girls he wanted to help them get on their feet.

Bobbi told E she would need a credit card to post an ad online. He took them shopping for outfits at Citi Trends on E. Lake Street, she said. Then he took photos and gave them a credit card and his phone to post an ad on Backpage.com, according to court papers.

In 2011, 46 attorneys general, including Minnesota’s Lori Swanson, signed a letter labeling Backpage.com a “hub” of child sex traffickingand calling its efforts to limit such ads “ineffective.” Once owned by Village Voice Media, the parent company of City Pages in the Twin Cities, it was split off into an independent company last fall in the wake of the controversy.

Those posting adult ads there encounter a set of rules to which they must agree, including not posting material that exploits minors or assists in human trafficking. But anyone can click right through it.

An attorney for Backpage, Liz McDougall, explained that the company helps fight child sex trafficking through systems that include automated and human filters looking for illegal activity before ads are posted, and by reporting suspected activity and responding to subpoenas within 24 hours.

If Backpage discontinued adult ads, McDougall noted, children could be advertised on sites offshore that don’t cooperate with U.S. authorities. She would not reveal how much revenue the adult ads generate, saying Backpage is a private company.

Ads with underage girls still slip through Backpage’s safeguards. One of Bobbi’s ads tempted customers with a “Special*Choose 1 or 2 girls** 1 girl is $150 and up.” It listed the girls as “CHERRII AND PEACHES.” Another showed a photo of them, hands linked. One listed Bobbi as “BABY” and touted: “I am open-minded, and love to have men satisfied.” Another called her “HONEY” and showed a series of photographs; a “selfie” of her fully clothed, a “selfie” of her in bra and panties, and another of her backside in a thong.

When the phone rang, they answered and gave the men instructions to meet them at hotels where E would drive them — the Red Roof Inn in Woodbury, the Sandalwood hotel in Shakopee and the Northwood Inn in Bloomington, the girls would later tell police.

Many hotel workers around the country have learned how to spot sex trafficking in training spurred by Marilyn Carlson Nelson, then-chair of Carlson, a global travel and hospitality company based in Minnesota. In 2004, in her own company’s hotel chains — including Radisson, Radisson Blu, and Country Inns and Suites — she launched a groundbreaking program to train employees to look for signs of suspicious activity and report it to authorities. Then she began lobbying other hotel chains to do the same and some followed suit.

But Bobbi and E managed to work in a variety of hotels in July 2012. Bobbi recalls E supplying her with a stream of cocaine. She wanted to get high before every trick, so she could feel numb, but he wouldn’t allow it.

She lost track of how many customers paid to have sex with her over about two weeks that she was with E.

All kinds of men showed up at the hotels as she was trafficked, Bobbi recalled. Businessmen in suits. An older man who said he was a doctor. A blind man with a walking stick, who told her he had arrived there on a bus. Some men, wearing wedding rings, specified no scented lotions or baby oil because they didn’t want to raise suspicions with their wives. Some reeked of body odor.

Men buy sex for all sorts of reasons. Some want to indulge in forbidden curiosities or sexual fantasies that a regular partner would reject. Some want sex without intimacy or commitment, researchers say. Some want intimacy with someone who likely wouldn’t have sex with them otherwise. Some want to feel powerful over a subservient woman.

The legal risk for women in the sex trade has been greater than for men — although changing that has also been part of the statewide effort to redefine prostitution and how it is prosecuted.

Far more women than men have been arrested on prostitution-related charges in Minnesota during the last decade. But in recent years, federal and state prosecutors have shifted more attention toward going after pimps and customers in juvenile sex-trafficking cases. Minnesota prosecutors were filing cases in the single digits at the beginning of the past decade; they filed 59 cases in 2012.

In early 2011, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi enlisted prosecutors around the state to join him in a new approach to sex-trafficking cases, with the victim as the foremost concern. Even before the law changed, they voluntarily treated those under 18 as victims instead of criminals. Choi advocated helping victims work with authorities to pursue cases against their traffickers.

But he and other prosecutors know the dangers for girls and women being trafficked go far beyond the risk of arrest. Alberto Prece Palmer, a Woodbury man wanted in Georgia for attacking three women he met on Backpage.com, was arrested in March in the bludgeoning death of 18-year-old Brittany Clardy of St. Paul, who police say was advertising massage services on the website. Her body was found frozen in the family car in a Columbia Heights impound lot. Palmer also is suspected in the killing of Klaressa Cook, whose body was found stuffed in a car in a Minneapolis impound lot.

Leaving ‘E’

Bobbi tried to make every encounter short and impersonal, like the business transaction it was. She had little time for small talk. She recalls just wanting to get it over with.

To a 17-year-old, all of the men seemed ancient and disgusting.

But the money felt good in her hands. She was surprised at how much cash her body could command. She handed her earnings over to E.

Toward the end of the second week, E became more controlling. He wanted her and her friend to earn more, at least $500 a night each, Bobbi recalled. Some nights, when they didn’t make any money, Bobbi could see him grow angry.

Broderick Boshay “E” Robinson, 39
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution. He is appealing case. Sentence: 7½ years.

Meranda Lynn Warborg, 30
Plea: Guilty, sextrafficking of a minor.Sentence: Five years of probation, including one year in workhouse. If probation completed, felony converts to misdemeanor.

 

But he wouldn’t tolerate her getting upset. “I wouldn’t dare to cry around him ’cause he would say ‘You look weak right now.’ ” She learned to detach from her own emotions, and still remains stone-faced when describing it all.

“I may act tough,” Bobbi explained. “I may look tough with my tattoos, but I’m not tough…. I mean, I can fight. I can put up a fight, but emotionally I’m just distraught.”

E, whose real name is Broderick Boshay Robinson, 39, is in prison now, serving a 7½-year sentence after pleading guilty to promoting prostitution in Bobbi’s case. Over the phone from the state prison in St. Cloud, he told a different version of events, saying he believed both girls were adults auditioning for jobs stripping at SexWorld. He wanted to help them with a place to stay and use of his iPhone, he said. They were paying him back for the hotels and for driving them places. He insisted he didn’t know they were turning tricks. He maintained they left him to go with another man who had better drugs. He denied supplying them with cocaine. He has since appealed, arguing that he was misinformed and poorly represented.

Bobbi would later tell police they left E by telling him they were meeting a trick at the Snelling Motel in Minneapolis. Instead, she called a man who had been a customer and supplied them with heroin and cocaine. After E dropped them off at the motel, the other man gave them a ride out.

He said he was taking them to a house where they could stay in north Minneapolis. But first he had sex with Bobbi. Then, in the middle of the night, he pulled his car up to a one-story bungalow on Oliver Avenue.

A woman named Meranda Warborg let them in. She was 29 years old, her brown hair stylishly cropped short in back. Bobbi thought she was pretty.

Bobbi recalls being led to a bedroom toward the back of the small, cluttered house. A mattress had been flopped on the floor.

Warborg knew all about turning tricks. “The guy who brought us there, I guess he was a pimp,” Bobbi concluded later. “I think the reason why I didn’t catch on was just because I was so messed up.”

Bobbi took most of a day off before turning tricks there, she would later tell police. She gave money to Warborg for using the house and to buy some crystal meth.

In the couple of days Bobbi stayed there, she didn’t think of Warborg as a pimp, she said, but rather as someone in the same desperate situation of needing drugs and money.

On a bright summer Saturday at the end of July 2012, Warborg was walking toward her SUV parked out back when an unmarked Chevy Impala pulled up in front of the house.

Sgt. Grant Snyder stepped out.

Sgt. Grant Snyder walked down a Minneapolis hotel corridor. “It’s shocking,” he said of the demographic of men who buy sex. “They’re married, educated, have families, have good jobs.”

One cop’s metamorphosis

In all of his years on the Minneapolis police force, Snyder had asked almost every prostituted woman he encountered one question: Why did they do it?

Getting them to open up came easily for Snyder, a 51-year-old father of five who was as comfortable addressing crowds at sex-trafficking conferences as he was talking one-on-one with victims.

He knew even khaki pants could be intimidating, too business-like, to these girls and women. So he wore jeans and canvas sneakers. He complimented women on their choice of handbag. Sitting down at eye level, he spoke softly but quickly — so fast he had to occasionally pause to sneak a breath. Before victims knew it, he had them talking, too.

Snyder had taken a libertarian view of prostitution back in college, when he majored in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota: If women wanted to sell sex, why should the community stop them? Prostitution was ubiquitous in societies around the globe, he had learned.

But over the years, as he saw women and girls from all walks of life trapped in the sex business, he kept hearing the same three answers to his question about why they did it.

They were doing it only for the money.

They were trying to get out of it.

It made them feel “shitty.”

The more he heard them talk, the more he saw their own disgust over having sex with strangers. Snyder began to see them as victims.

He also saw that the customers weren’t the fringes-of-society men that most people imagined.

“It’s the people that live down the street, that work down the hallway, that attend church where we do, that eat in the same restaurants we do, our kids play together,” Snyder said. “It’s shocking when you look at the demographic of who these guys are. They’re married, educated, have families, have good jobs.”

Once, on a sting, Snyder’s fellow officer sympathized with the johns they were about to arrest. The guys had so much to lose: marriages, jobs, reputations, money.

That riled Snyder even more. For years, he said, society has treated prostituted women like dirt, stigmatizing their behavior but letting customers get off easy.

In 2009, as Snyder and other officers were busting a large sex-trafficking ring that dubbed itself “Minnesota Nice Guys,” his attitude about prostitution changed permanently.

Prostituted women in the ring served about 30 high-income clients, roughly 40 to 65 years old, who had clean backgrounds and were considered trustworthy.

Snyder saw them differently.

“I saw that these were rich guys that were using vulnerable immigrant women … like playthings that they could buy,” Snyder said. “These are men that are purchasing another person and they’re getting them to do things they clearly don’t want to do.”

After they were caught, men in the case told police that they felt they were helping women who needed money.

“All that sort of entitlement bullshit — that I can do something that makes this OK,” Snyder said. “There’s a hypocrisy in all of that.”

He came to believe that women and girls in prostitution, even those who said they were doing it voluntarily, were really doing it to survive, and they were damaged by it. It was a realization that would change his approach to policing. He would begin by immediately telling victims that he wasn’t there to get them in trouble, that he wanted to make sure they were safe and that he wanted to help them.

Intent on extricating Bobbi from the system of trafficking, Snyder walked around the house toward Meranda Warborg.

Staff writer Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.

Part 3 tomorrow…

Saving Bobbi: A Minnesota Teen’s Sex Trafficking Story (part 1)

Bobbi sat motionless listening to a booking interview between Sgt. Grant Snyder and one of the men who ultimately pleaded guilty in her case.

Pam Louwagie

Opening the door, he paused to let his eyes adjust from the bright light of the summer day outside before he could see her.

The girl was huddled with a friend on a grimy mattress on the floor, lolling in a methamphetamine haze.

Instruments of modern-day bondage lay scattered about: A drug pipe keeping her in a meth-induced stupor, willing to do almost anything for the next high. A prepaid credit card. Three cellphones, tethering the girls to pimps and johns 24/7.

Dressed up in white lingerie and thick eye shadow, Bobbi Larson was just 17 and a long way from home.

“What’s going on?” she yelled when she heard people in the hall of the Minneapolis bungalow.

Then a man about her dad’s age walked in, shirt untucked over faded blue jeans, head shaved bald, a stubble of beard on his face. There was nothing unusual about that. Bobbi had learned to expect all kinds of men to show up. Rich professionals and blue-collar johns. Men from rough parts of town and those who drove in from posh suburbs, buying sex with girls as young as their own daughters.

He was careful about the tone of voice he used, aiming for compassion. “I’m Sgt. Snyder, Minneapolis police,” he recalled saying. “I’ve been looking for you girls. You guys OK?”

Bobbi visited the boarded-up house in St. Paul that she once broke into as a runaway. She and another girl stood on a trash can to slip in through a back window. For nearly a month, they did drugs there and traded sex for money.

Bobbi hated cops. They could disrupt her ability to get meth and haul her back into treatment.

“We’re fine,” she snapped. “What do you want?”

Grant Snyder knew they were not fine. In 16 years of police work, he had seen too much of the ugly world of underground online sex markets, where girls from all across Minnesota were bought and sold via smartphones and laptops.

Pimps liked to target the particularly vulnerable ones — kids with abuse in their past, autism, fetal alcohol syndrome. When those challenges combined with teenage rebellion, and kids bolted from home to the streets, they were easy prey.

Snyder was fed up with the number of kids being snagged by these pimps, used by the johns. He had ceased to view prostitution as harmless. To him, these kids and even adults trapped in the sex trade were victims pure and simple. They desperately needed help whether they knew it or not.

He had joined an unusual collection of Minnesotans — prosecutors, Catholic sisters, a billionaire hotel company executive, formerly prostituted women, advocates, truckers and cops — who were changing the way prostituted children are treated in the state. In 2011, they successfully pushed for a new state law defining those under 16 as victims rather than criminals. Their efforts had put Minnesota in the vanguard of states intent on dismantling seedy networks of websites, pimps and johns.

The moves to decriminalize and help prostituted children came with a change of language to describe what was happening to them: “Sex trafficking” began to replace “prostitution” even when children were not transported across state or national borders. “Victim” supplanted “prostitute.”

Soon a push began that would raise the age of those regarded as victims to 18 and secure money for programs to help girls escape their predators for good. Some likened the effort to the transformation back in the 1970s in how society viewed domestic abuse, when the first battered women’s shelters opened.

But on this day, in the midst of those broader efforts, Snyder simply needed to get Bobbi and her friend out of that house.

Rooms like the one where Bobbi had ended up in north Minneapolis exist all across the state, police and prosecutors say — in good neighborhoods and bad, in urban areas, suburbs and small towns. The juvenile sex trade respects no boundaries of geography, class, culture, gender or race.

Bobbi hopes that sharing her story and the horrors of what it meant to be trafficked will save other girls from that fate in Minnesota and beyond. She knows she made some terrible choices in her young life and lives with shame, blaming herself for part of what happened, sorry for how it terrified the parents she loves.

Scott and Deanna Larson, the couple who raised her and whom she regards as her mom and dad, are actually Bobbi’s uncle and aunt. They live nearly 200 miles to the north along Lake Superior, running a North Woods bar and grill catering to snowmobilers and cabin owners. Bobbi grew up there, amid the towering pines and craggy boulders lining the shore. A classic Minnesota childhood.

How had she ended up in this dismal room, so far away?

Her parents could only guess. Their beautiful little girl, the one who had been a Girl Scout, a basketball player and a decent student, had gotten in with the wrong friends as a young teen and started experimenting with drugs and who knows what else. She had slipped loose from their best attempts to safeguard her with drug treatment and group homes.

But they never dreamed that their small-town girl might get involved in sex trafficking. When a Sgt. Snyder from the Minneapolis Police Department called to say he thought he had located their daughter, who had been missing for two weeks, and briefed them on what was happening, they were stunned.

Snyder was not. He knew it happened more often than most people could fathom. Though many Americans think of child sex trafficking as a global scourge of the developing world, advocates warn it is an insidious domestic problem, too.

Unlike the past, when pimps paraded girls and women on street corners, sex trafficking in the digital age flourishes almost invisibly online. In just one 72-hour sting over the summer, an FBI-led operation rescued 105 children and netted 152 pimps in 76 cities nationwide, including four alleged pimps in the Twin Cities.

The true scope of the problem is elusive. Reliable statistics do not exist, and estimates on the number of underage trafficking victims range from 1,400 to 2.4 million, according to a September report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. TheNational Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimates 100,000 kids a year are victims of sex trafficking in the United States. Many transactions go unreported to police.

In the absence of hard numbers, some say estimates are overblown.

In 2010, the Women’s Funding Network, an advocacy group, commissioned research on how many underage girls were being trafficked in three states, including Minnesota. Based partly on subjective attempts to gauge the age of girls in photographs in online ads, researchers concluded that on any weekend night in Minnesota, about 45 underage girls are exploited through websites and escort services.

Minneapolis police Sgt. Grant Snyder has spent much of his career trying to understand the dynamics of sex trafficking and how to combat it.

Whatever the precise extent of sex trafficking in Minnesota, Snyder understood from experience that too many girls were being harmed. He knew he would have to earn the trust of Bobbi and her friend in order to help them. The odds were not good for extricating Bobbi from the drugs and the way she supported her addiction. But there was something about Bobbi that made him think there might be a chance.

Now, towering over Bobbi and her friend in the meth-infused room, he calmly told them, “You guys are going to have to come with us.”

He leaned down and stretched out his arm to help them up.

A North Woods childhood

Everyone’s life is a stew of good and bad luck. For Bobbi, luck arrived in extremes.

A doctor and therapists would later conclude that before she was even born, alcohol had washed from her birth mother’s blood, through the placenta and into her tiny forming brain.

There, it may have signaled genes to make too much or too little of certain chemicals. It may have tricked some cells into self-destructing sooner than they would have in a healthy developing brain.

Bobbi’s birth mother insists she didn’t drink alcohol during pregnancy and didn’t develop problems with alcohol until her daughter was 6 months old.

It is estimated that each year in Minnesota, 8,500 babies are born already exposed to alcohol. Not all will show effects. On the day Bobbi was born in Two Harbors, Minn., in late 1994, no one could predict exactly what that might mean.

Bobbi’s birth parents, struggling with their own addictions, initially attempted to raise her along with her two older brothers. They lived in a subsidized house near the North Woods town of Finland, Minn., Scott remembers. He and Deanna were so concerned the kids weren’t getting enough nutrition that they dropped off groceries.

That environment also could have affected Bobbi’s young brain. Babies raised in harsh circumstances, where the world proves untrustworthy, develop differently, research shows. They find ways to alleviate stress quickly, not worrying about the future. Studies show they end up with greater chances of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, employment difficulties and decreased cognitive ability.

But at age 2, Bobbi’s luck swung dramatically the other way.

Lake County social service officials were desperately looking to place her and her brothers, now in temporary foster care with another relative, in a permanent home together.

Scott and Deanna Larson became Bobbi’s legal guardians when she was 2. Although they are her aunt and uncle, she calls them mom and dad.

Scott and Deanna Larson decided they should become legal guardians for their niece and nephews, even though they were already busy with 11- and 14-year-old daughters of their own. Deanna worked as a dental hygienist in Duluth. Scott managed the local golf course and served as assistant fire chief in Two Harbors. A salt-of-the-earth kind of couple.

On a cold winter Sunday in 1997, Bobbi was delivered to the Larsons’ front door in Two Harbors. Scott was sitting in a recliner watching football on TV and remembers Bobbi toddling straight over to him, her blue eyes sparkling under wisps of blonde hair. She smiled and climbed right up onto his lap.

They read a book together that evening. Right away, Scott understood his new daughter craved affection.

The Larsons treated Bobbi and her brothers like their own children. All three later took their last name and called them “Mom” and “Dad.”

Scott and Deanna would pack everyone into the family Suburban to go fishing at nearby ponds, to worship at the Lutheran church and to watch high school hockey, volleyball and basketball games. The cheerleaders let Bobbi use their pompons.

Bobbi was a bubbly child, her loud voice and wide smile attracting other kids. In grade school, she earned several perfect attendance pins. She rode snowmobiles and four-wheelers, made up new games and taught her classmates the latest dances. She went out of her way to make her friends happy, bringing one a favorite Pop-Tarts snack every day at school.

She had a sweet, sensitive side. When the Larsons’ oldest daughter gave birth to a son, Scott watched 11-year-old Bobbi cradle, feed and diaper the baby with a tender, maternal touch. The older daughters were in nursing careers, and Bobbi thought she might want to do that someday, too.

Hannah Broadbent, a close childhood friend, recalls Bobbi confiding to her the pain of feeling abandoned by her birth parents.

Several times a day, Bobbi told Scott and Deanna “love you,” then waited to hear them say it back.

They always did.

Bobbi Larson, left, and a friend paused for a smoking break in Duluth. Bobbi’s teenage years have been a cycle of drug use, treatment programs, running away and living on the streets — where she was targeted by sex traffickers.

Signs of trouble

Bobbi’s teachers at Minnehaha Elementary were the first to sound an alarm.

At conferences in the flat, brick school building two blocks from tourists whirring by along North Shore Drive, they told Scott and Deanna that Bobbi’s boisterous personality was becoming disruptive in the classroom.

Doctors diagnosed Bobbi with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and put her on medication. At age 12, specialists diagnosed her with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, marking it in her medical records as a “permanent diagnosis” requiring long-term support. Bobbi would need additional time for complex tasks and her family would need to be aware of her “expressive difficulties,” the document said.

All of that could translate into Bobbi having more trouble than the average kid making good decisions, anticipating consequences, controlling impulses or learning from experience. It also meant she might be outgoing, hungry for even negative attention, trusting, randomly attracted to strangers and vulnerable to manipulation — a dangerous mix heading into adolescence.

The timing was tough for Scott and Deanna. Their older daughters were finding their way as young adults. Scott and Deanna were working long days trying to turn a profit at the bar and grill they had just bought.

But the medical predictions kept coming true. As a young teen, Bobbi started getting suspended from school for fighting and smoking cigarettes. Her friend Hannah saw that while Bobbi was influential among her peers, she looked up to and was easily influenced by older friends.

She would brush on dramatic eye shadow and fix her hair, then pop out the screen of her bedroom window in the middle of the night and take off for the breakwater wall, a long concrete bulwark jutting out into the cold, choppy water of Lake Superior. There, she would sit near a small lighthouse with guys 18 and 19 years old, drink cheap liquor and smoke a low-grade form of marijuana they called ditch weed. She started experimenting with sex.

It wasn’t unheard-of behavior for a teen on the North Shore or anywhere else. Nearly a third of Minnesota high school seniors have smoked weed in the previous year and more than half have drunk alcohol. About half have had sex by their senior year.

Hannah saw Bobbi turn into a different person when she was high; she could be mean.

Scott and Deanna worried that their daughter was headed for disaster. Scott would sit in their darkened house trying to catch Bobbi’s friends picking her up at her window. If she didn’t make curfew, he would get in his car to track her down.

He and Deanna explained repeatedly that running around was dangerous, but Bobbi didn’t seem to understand. The fun was too alluring.

Bobbi pushed them too far over the Fourth of July in 2009, when they learned she wasn’t hanging out with the friends she said she would be with. Once again, Scott found her and pulled her out of a car that she had been riding in drunk with older boys.

Scott and Deanna decided Bobbi needed more help than they could give her and made a desperate decision to send her away to treatment. She was 14.

Learning to escape

Northland Recovery Center in Grand Rapids, Minn. was the first stop in a four-year odyssey for Bobbi through treatment centers and halfway houses stretching from Brainerd to Eden Prairie.

Scott and Deanna were involved in decisions about where she would go, but because of their status as legal guardians, Lake County officials also helped decide which programs were the safest, best places for Bobbi.

During the treatment programs, in groups and one-on-one, counselors tried to help Bobbi figure out why she was drawn to using drugs. They guided her in identifying triggers for her urge to get high and in coming up with responsible choices to make instead.

At every turn, Scott and Deanna dutifully drove to visit her and participate in parent meetings, sometimes making three-hour trips to the Twin Cities and back twice a week.

“All of this stuff was all about wanting her to be able to go on to leading a successful life,” Scott said.

They were heartened when Bobbi completed several treatments successfully. She was good at convincing the counselors that her addictions were under control. Later on, she would admit it was acting.

“I was just like, ‘OK, I can just use when I get out. Whatever. I’ll just do [the treatment],’ ” she said. “I’m a very good manipulator, and it’s sad to admit, but I am.”

She also became adept at simply running away. Security at adolescent treatment centers and group homes varies widely. Only three centers in Minnesota are locked facilities, explained Jerry Kerber, inspector general for the state Department of Human Services. Others tailor security and freedom to each child, with the goal of teaching them to make good choices. State licensing standards say facilities need to assess children to see if a locked door is warranted.

Kids in such places are usually stripped of electronic devices that would give them access to the Internet. But in early 2012 — more than two years into her cycle of treatments — Bobbi snuck an iPod Touch into Little Sand Group Home in the northern Minnesota woods near the tiny town of Remer, and cracked into some nearby Wi-Fi. The group home was not a locked facility, although alarms on the doors alerted staff when kids were leaving.

A new friend from treatment plotted with Bobbi how they would run away. They posted a message on a dating website seeking a ride to the Twin Cities. A stranger responded and they made plans for him to pick them up. They were out of the building and into the car in moments.

The friend told Bobbi she knew of an empty house on Kenny Road, just north of Interstate 94 near downtown St. Paul, a place where they could get out of the biting January cold. But when they arrived at the tan, two-story duplex, the doors were bolted shut. They used an old garbage can from someone’s back yard to climb up and boost themselves in through an unlocked rear window. The house was warm, but the bathroom was unusable.

They did their best to clean up the large living room, sweeping the wood floor and washing it with disinfecting wipes stolen from the Holiday convenience store a couple of blocks away. They tacked old sheets to the walls to section it off and moved a box spring and mattress onto the floor. They wrapped their clean clothes over left-behind pillows before daring to sleep on them.

For nearly a month they sank into a drug-induced fog, sleeping until the afternoon, then walking to the gas station to use the bathroom and sometimes steal food before returning to the house to plug in their hair straighteners and put on makeup.

Bobbi said her friend showed her how to get money. They walked toward downtown St. Paul at night and in no time at all men began approaching. They went with them to hotel rooms or apartments to have sex. Sometimes they invited the men to the vacant house.

Bobbi’s friend taught her to make sure to ask for the money before having sex and to use condoms.

Later, Bobbi would tell police that she didn’t want to do it, but she also didn’t want to look weak. She was hungry and desperately wanted a shower — something she could get if she went with men to hotel rooms or their homes.

As the girls were drawn into selling sex in the winter of 2012, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota had decided to make combatting child sex trafficking a major initiative of the organization. It launched a $5 million, five-year campaign, giving grants to groups fighting trafficking and working with victims, funding research and spreading the word that “Minnesota Girls Are Not For Sale.”

Men already were buying Bobbi.

“Every time after I turned a trick, I felt disgusting,” Bobbi said later. “You know, I felt like, even after I showered, I was, like, ick.”

The money bought them drugs and alcohol, clothes, makeup and manicures. Bobbi met up with members of the Gangster Disciples gang. She agreed to let her friend dip a needle in ink to draw a homemade tattoo of a dollar sign on her chest. It would prove, she thought, that she was worth something.

More than three weeks after they ran away, authorities found Bobbi and a friend swimming in a hotel pool in downtown St. Paul, Bobbi said. She was delivered back to the group home in northern Minnesota.

But by then, Bobbi had developed a dangerous new taste for life on the run.

Part 2 tomorrow…

 

France: “Hands Off My Whore” Campaign Seeks to Block Pay-For-Sex Fines

‘Hands off my whore’ campaign outrages France

‘Hands off my whore’ campaign outrages France

The men’s group opposes the French government’s moves to punish the buying of sexual services.

The petition says some of the signatories, who include prominent figures such as author Frederic Beigbeder and the lawyer for Dominique Strauss-Kahn are men who “have used or are likely to use the services of prostitutes,” TV station France 24 reported.

“We do not defend prostitution, we defend freedom,” the campaign reads. “And when parliament gets involved in adopting rules on sexuality, everyone’s freedom is threatened.”

A prostitute waits for clients in the Bois de Boulogne. The French government is considering a plan to fine  men buying sexual services  the equivalent of a $2,000.

A prostitute waits for clients in the Bois de Boulogne. The French government is considering a plan to fine men buying sexual services the equivalent of a $2,000.

The text continues, “We consider that everyone has the right to freely sell their charms – and even to enjoy doing so. All together, we declare: Hands off my whore!”

Among those signing up is Richard Malka, a lawyer for disgraced International Monetary Fund economist Strauss-Kahn, accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid in 2011.

Morgane Merteuil, general secretary of Strass (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel), which campaigns for decriminalization, defiantly told the men: “We are nobody’s whores, especially not yours … If we fight for our rights it is largely to have more power against you, so we can dictate our terms … ”

The French Minister for Women’s rights and government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem slammed the manifesto, arguing the 1971 abortion manifesto had been signed by women “who demanded to be able to freely decide what to do with their bodies”.

The L'Aventure private club-restaurant in Paris where former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn reportedly had sex with prostitutes, according to French media reports.

The L’Aventure private club-restaurant in Paris where former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn reportedly had sex with prostitutes, according to French media reports.

“The 343 bastards demand the right to decide what to do with the bodies of others,” she said. “I think there is no need for further comment,” she told France 24.

Selma James, the co-author of the women’s movement classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, wrote in the Guardian that the manifesto “tell us what they think of sex workers.”

In order for sex workers to operate safely and not just be pushed underground they, not a group of men claiming to defend them, “must have the last word.”

Under current rules, prostitution is legal in France, but soliciting and pimping are prohibited.

A bill to be debated at the end of next month seeks to penalise clients instead of sex workers in a bid to phase out prostitution.

The proposed law would impose a 1,500-euro fine on those paying for sex and would double that if the “John” were caught a second time.

The Zeromacho network, meanwhile, which groups together nearly 2,000 men fighting against prostitution, also slammed the manifesto.
“This reactionary petition claims that wanting to abolish prostitution is ‘a war against men’. It’s actually the opposite: We Zeromachos maintain that fighting for the abolition of prostitution is first and foremost a fight for equality.”