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OUR VIEW: Johns ought to be deterred by prison term for online rapist

Since last September, when 18 alleged johns were charged in a sex-with-minors sting, the staff of the Woodbury Bulletin has been tracking the Washington County Attorney’s Office offensive aimed at prostitution, solicitation and exploitation of juveniles in the Twin Cities.

Every story has been shocking in its own right.

In September, an ad posted by police officers posing as a mother and her underage deaf daughter seeking a threesome drew more than a dozen men to the Red Roof Inn, as part of a sting initiated in the Backpage.com classifieds.

Then, a St. Paul man — and alleged pimp — was charged with promoting prostitution of a minor. The girl’s work started as a stripper on a party bus, before she agreed to give sexual favors in exchange for money.

Woodbury men are not immune to charges. One man made an appointment on the Whisper.sh app, showed up to meet a 15-year-old for sex, and was arrested by undercover police conducting a sting. According to the criminal complaint, he also sought on Whisper: “Any girls Homeless.”

More disturbing are the occasions when underage people are victimized.

One Maple Grove man traveled to Cottage Grove more than once, paying for unprotected sex and taking nude photos of a 16-year-old. When he arranged a third meet-up with her, this time proposing to bring her to his home instead of visiting hers, police caught him — with rubber gloves, a tarp and a suitcase in his trunk.

Maybe no story was more shocking than that which came via press release from county attorney’s office earlier this month — a 28-1/3-month sentence for an online rapist who remotely kept a Stillwater Junior High girl as a sex slave. He never met her in person. And she’s not the only young girl believed to have communicated with, or victimized by, the rapist.

Set aside any false assumptions you have about victims of prostitution being at fault in any way.

In this county prostitutes are treated like the victims they are, as prosecutors seek to find help for the abused.

Parents are warned through attorneys’ and officers’ speaking engagements at schools, churches and elsewhere through organizations like the Youth Service Bureau.

In the case of Cheyenne Cody Vedaa Foster, recently sentenced for first-degree criminal conduct as an online rapist, major crimes specialist Imran Ali said, the parents of the victim “did everything right” and “everything that parents should do.”

They communicated with their daughter, and had a good relationship with her. Still, she was victimized to no fault of her own.

Nothing should surprise us now.

Thankfully, in Foster’s case, prosecutors asked for an appropriate sentence for acts that caused nine months of fear and psychological torture.

“This case highlights our office’s position: to protect those individuals that are vulnerable,” Ali said in an interview last week. “It’s no good business sending people to prison (but Foster’s sentence) should be a deterrent. Actions speak louder than words.”

The county attorney’s office is attempting to cut off supply and demand for child prostitution. Police and prosecutors have been catching those who buy sex on Backpage.com and other website classified pages. County Attorney Pete Orput has charged one alleged pimp, and he vows to ferret out more where that guy came from.

Social services and nonprofits have teamed up with Washington County to expand a coalition trying to fight an elusive enemy.

In fact, the supply and demand for sex with minors is far larger than even Orput originally conceived.

The county built a major crimes unit, and in the first three months realized that 15,742 solicitations for sex were posted on Backpage.com.

As parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends, the best things we can do are get educated about a horrible problem in our own backyard, love our kids, put trust in our police and courts, and pray the supply and demand for prostitution goes away.

Mathias Baden, editor of the Woodbury Bulletin, wrote this editorial.

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