Updated: 08/28/2014 10:44 PM
Created: 08/28/2014 9:53 PM KAALtv.com
By: Jenna Lohse
(ABC 6 News) -- A three month investigation ends with more than two dozen arrests for prostitution offenses in Rochester. The police department's Street Crimes Unit posted ads to the website backpage.com. More than 100 calls came in from people looking for prostitutes. Of the 29 arrested, close to half wanted someone underage. Experts say this sting highlights a problem bigger than prostitution.
"It's not what we would commonly refer to as street walkers anymore," said Jeanne Ronayne with Victim Services in Olmsted County. She says sex trafficking is no longer what it used to be. "That's not how sex trafficking looks anymore, the ease of actually making a contact through the internet has sadly facilitated this crime in a way,” she said.
But like the recent sting in Rochester, the internet can also help police catch suspected traffickers and find victims.
"If we don't do something, it's not going to change,” said Sister Anne Walch, St Francis of Assisi. She gives sex trafficking awareness sessions in our area and the recent bust isn't a surprise to her. "It's just a drop in a big ocean kind of thing,” said Walch.
Since 2010, 113 suspects involved with prostitution have been arrested in Rochester. Even so, sex trafficking goes vastly under reported. "The trafficker determines their whole life for them, they can almost talk them into anything,” said Walch.
Minnesota has become one of the model states in how to approach human trafficking. "Legislators are taking this more seriously by increasing the fines and penalties for this crime and they've also made moneys available to help the victims of sex trafficking,” said Ronayne. The recent bust shows local law enforcement is also being proactive. "It does send a really loud and strong message about that this is going to be taken seriously here,” Ronayne added.
We're told this investigation also played a key role in two federal cases. Both involved suspects charged with promoting underage girls for sex trafficking.