Advocates promote tougher tactics to combat prostitution

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A group of Twin Cities law enforcement officials and anti-prostitution advocates is promoting a get-tough strategy aimed at the customers of prostitutes.

Officials from the Minnesota Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force say an estimated 8,000-12,000 women and children are involved in prostitution on any given night. The majority entered prostitution after being sexually assaulted as children. Most are chemically dependent or mentally ill.

Task Force members say the penalties for men who use prostitutes need to be strengthened to better send the message that prostitution is wrong.

Vednita Carter runs Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based group that helps prostitutes find new jobs, housing and other assistance. She said prostitution exploits every person it touches.

"The psychological, physical and mental damage that it has on the prostituted individual takes a lifetime to repair," Carter said. "Prostitution is a human rights violation and men who purchase women and children for sex must be held accountable, no matter who they are nor their status."

The task force is promoting its new "Stop the Demand" campaign, aimed at increasing arrests and penalties for men who purchase prostitutes.

"Prostitution is violence and it doesn't matter if she gets paid $1,000 in the Radisson Hotel or if she gets paid $20 in an alley," Carter said. "The psychological, physical and mental damage that it has on the prostituted individual takes a lifetime to repair."

The coalition of anti-prostitution activists and law enforcement officials called prostitution a serious problem in Minnesota. The group was responding to the ongoing debate about the impact of prostitution in the wake of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's resignation.