Minneapolis 'Shouldn't Have to Sell Its Daughters' Series: The Child Sex Trade: Battling a Scourge. Part Four of Nine. Fourth of Four Articles Appearing Today

Article excerpt

Kenny is 18 years old, but has been working on the streets of Minneapolis, cross-dressed as a young girl, since he was 16. He prostitutes himself to pay for "crack" - a potent form of cocaine.

Kenny used to enjoy playing baseball in school. Now the driving force in his life is crack. He makes money to pay for it mostly from men and boys driving into the city from the suburbs looking for sex with a young girl. Most never find out that Kenny is a male.

Even though his young life is a harsh treadmill of sex and drugs, a gentle part of his nature remains concerned about other young people on the street who are starting in prostitution.

"I see these hungry little girls giving their last pocket change to their pimps and I tell them to just go home," he says. "Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn't."

Here in America's heartland, far from gritty Los Angeles and New York, the commercial sexual exploitation of youth in prostitution, escort services, massage parlors, and strip joints is a growth business.

Minneapolis generally enjoys a reputation as an enlightened, modern Midwest city. Yet it has a thriving downtown sex industry, the largest in the region, valued at about $50 million annually. In just a decade, the city's sex district has grown from a handful of seedy strip bars to at least six warehouse-size strip clubs, one peep show, two saunas, and two large adult book/video stores - all in a 12-block radius. The Minneapolis phone book lists no fewer than 70 escort services, and massage parlors abound.

Strip club operators, pornography vendors, and escort services all stoutly deny employing underage girls. Police have, however, sometimes found underage girls working for such businesses. Former prostitutes also told the Monitor of escort services they had worked for using fake identification.

The different parts of the city's sex trade are "an underground industry that is linked together," with much common ownership, says Brian Herron, a City Council member. "They all seem to feed off of it."

But while some city politicians like Mr. Herron rail against it, the sex industry has mostly been accepted as just another component of the city's economy, long-time observers say. The booming convention business at the city's steel-and-glass heart has grown in tandem with the bricks-and-mortar sex palaces (former warehouses) nearby. "Minneapolis is using its youth to cater to America's domestic sex tourism industry," says Evelina Giobbe, director of WHISPER, an organization here that helps women escape prostitution. "A city shouldn't have to sell its daughters for sex to make a buck."

The City Council has tried since 1986 to use ordinances to confine the sex titillation industry downtown. …


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