The steps are just the beginning of a recovery process that could take a
lifetime, said Linda Miller, executive director of the Civil Society in St.
Paul, Minnesota, one of several Twin Cities organizations that works with
victims of sexual violence.
"It's not possible to change people back to what they were before the crime,"
said Miller, "but it is possible to stabilize them and get them into a
situation where they can deal with the present and the future. They will
probably carry the scars their whole lives."
The women were rescued during a law enforcement sweep last month that uncovered
eight brothels in otherwise ordinary-looking houses and apartments in
Minneapolis, Richfield, West St. Paul and Austin, according to a federal
The indictment describes women being flown to Minnesota and delivered from one
brothel to another, one woman given short heels so she wouldn't appear too tall
to the johns, and two women forced to have sex with 80 men in one night.
The women's identification papers were reportedly seized by the ring leaders to
prevent them from fleeing.
Twenty five men and women -- most illegal immigrants from Latin America -- were
charged in federal court in connection with the bust.
Authorities would not reveal the exact numbers or the precise whereabouts of
the women who were rescued. But Twin Cities agencies that work with formerly
prostituted women say the first steps for such victims is finding a safe place
to begin to heal. The women often are taken first to a domestic violence
shelter, they said, and then moved into a "supportive housing" program that can
coordinate their therapy and services.
In cases such as this one, where foreign-born women were stripped of their
identity papers, getting proper identification for the women is a step toward
giving them a sense of control over their lives, agency leaders said.
"Women being trafficked are severely controlled by their traffickers," said
Jose Trejo, program director for Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that
provides a variety of services to prostituted women. "When they come to an
organization for assistance, they've been utterly traumatized. The biggest
issues they face are shame, guilt and low self-esteem -- given all the things
they've had to do."
Because so many women are given drugs as a way to control them, women may need
help breaking chemical addictions when they're finally rescued, said Trejo.
Likewise caring for their medical and mental health is needed.
"For women who are trafficked, you don't have just one person to be afraid of,
you have a network of people to be afraid of wherever you go," said Miller.
Authorities aren't revealing how the women involved in the Minnesota ring were
first drawn into prostitution. But agencies that work with prostituted women
say that women who are "trafficked" -- bought and sold from other countries --
are duped with a variety of scams.
Often the women are recruited in their home countries, under pretenses of
landing a restaurant job or other legitimate work in the United States, said
Amy Sanchez, a director at Casa de Esperanza, a St. Paul-based agency assisting
victims of domestic violence.
Many are women who have married or entered into romantic relationships with men
who bring them to the United States and then sell them for sex, they said.
"We've worked with women who were told they had a student visa, but when they
got here they were told, 'You don't have one. So you have to do as I say,' "
Their situation is complicated by the fact that many women don't speak English,
giving traffickers another means of control, said Miller. So rescued women are
quickly assigned to English-language classes.
"We start the ESL, (English as a Second Language), right away because it gets
their minds off of things," said Miller. "It's good therapy."
The women rescued in last month's raid are expected to be asked to cooperate
with federal prosecutors. They are eligible to continue receiving services,
housing and eventually vocational training as long as it's needed, said Miller.