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
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
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. …