National Lutheran News

Minnesota teens are being seduced into prostitution

ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod has launched a preventive program

Why do people profiting from the sex trade like teen-age Minnesotans? According to Doug Spiotta, chair of the board of “Cherish Our Children,” it’s because “they’re blonde, they’re blue-eyed and they’re naive. That makes them high-demand commodities.”

Commodities? Lutheran teen-agers? Precisely.

Cherish Our Children’s executive director, Amy Hartman, told Metro Lutheran that sexual predators — specifically those who seduce unsuspecting young people into prostitution (often out-of-state), really do treat their victims as property, not people.

“Lutheran (and other) parents in Minnesota were in denial about this for a long time. They didn’t think it could or would happen to their kids. I’m observing there’s a lot less denial than there was. Now people are trying to figure out what to do about this very serious problem.”

It’s not just attractive young girls who are vulnerable, Spiotta explained. “About 40% of teen prostitutes are currently boys.”

Hartman, who advocated for her organization to Lutheran leaders and saw it launched a year ago, says she “kind of stumbled into this work.” She said, “I have a heart for justice — and for children.”

The office for her program, which gets financial support from the Minn-eapolis Area Synod and several other ELCA judicatories nationwide, is located at Augustana Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis where Spiotta is also employed (but not by Hartman’s ministry).

She says the challenges facing parents and teen-agers are more daunting today than ever before. “Porno-graphic Web sites catch kids who aren’t even looking for them. Their perpetrators take a perfectly innocent Web address and change one letter. A young person often stumbles onto it by mistake and gets caught.”

What sounds like a way to make money or build a career as a glamorous and well-paid model results in a teen-ager getting seduced into the sex trade, often shipped out of state for exploitation far from home.

Hartman says, “When I speak to groups, I talk about ‘cultural pimping’ — things like ads for children’s clothing putting the youngsters in sexually suggestive poses. Over time, exposure to stuff like this changes what is culturally acceptable.”

Spiotta says, “It really makes you wonder whether parents know what they’re doing to their kids when they let them dress in ways encouraged by such ads.”

As an example of how culture changes insidiously, Spiotta explains, “Today most teens don’t think oral sex constitutes sexual activity. They figure it can’t get you pregnant, so it must be okay. That’s scary.”

Hartman’s goal is to have congregations begin to say, “We need to support our parents,” and to ask “How do we do this?”

Spiotta suggests a model. “At Augustana Lutheran, where we both work, there’s a Cherish Our Children team. We have 60 young kids. Each has an adult assigned to pray for him or her. We now have prayers being offered for preschoolers. Imagine!”

Curiously, the St. Paul Area Synod has not signed on as a sponsoring Cherish Our Children Synod, al-though individual congregations are taking positive steps. In the Minneapolis Area Synod there’s a Cherish Our Children task force. It includes a licensed family therapist, a parish nurse, a paralegal and members of Women of the ELCA.

The goal is to get 20 of the ELCA’s synods on board within the next two years.

Spiotta admits getting the church — and society at large — to wake up may take time. “Look what happened to smoking. We have a new attitude now, but look how long it took to get there.”

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To learn more about Cherish Our Children, visit www.mpls-synod.org and click on the Cherish Our Children link on the front page. Or, call 612/280-1259.