In January, National Trafficking Awareness Month prompted me to hunt for one of the many books in my sex work history collection which would illustrate that it’s the same old story ~ and worse, the same old solution. As many of the items in my collection are packed away for their protection, and I had to reread the book for reviewing as well as document all the research, this took a lot longer than anticipated. But here we are.
[Oh, and before we begin, I am using the word “prostitution” here to refer to either A) sex trafficking victims (as opposed to voluntary sex workers) or B) the legal name of the acts, where applicable.]
Our story of the fear mongering over the white slave trade could begin over a hundred years ago, but the book I selected for all its various intersections with the issues of today is 1978’s The Minnesota Connection.
Written by “preacher-cop” Al Palmquist, with help from John Stone, The Minnesota Connection was billed as “A Terrifying Story of Teenaged Prostitution and a Preacher-Cop Determined to Stop It.” The book is supposed to be the true account of Palmquist’s battle with sex trafficking victims, but it contains so many factual flaws that you must use air quotes while saying the words “true story.”
Unfortunately, it is also an example of how saying untrue things so often gets people to believe them ~ even when there is proof to the contrary.
We begin, for context, with a look at “our hero,” Al Palmquist. Palmquist, a Billy Graham follower, is at this time not only a preacher and a police officer, but the founder of Midwest Challenge, Inc./Safe House (which has expunged him from their historical record). He primarily is now working at turning folks “off of drugs and on to Jesus Christ.”
In The Winona Daily News (May 1, 1977), “expert” Al Palmquist is listed as presenting a talk on “How Drugs, The Occult, Rock Music And Advertising Link Together”. This lecture, and others like it, are all about how Satanists use subconscious, subliminal, “mystical calls” in advertising and rock music to attract folks to the occult and its leaders who ply them with drugs so they can get them to worship Satan. [I love that the next lecture listed is Harry Reems on “Censorship & Pornography”!]
Two days later, that same paper covered the lecture event in the paper. And I adore columnist Cathy Balogh’s introduction to the coverage:
Josehph McCarthy ferreted out “communist subversives,” street corner prophets predict the world’s end, and Monday evening Al Palmquist presented his case on the dangers of Satanism.
But, apparently, this Satanism stuff isn’t gaining any traction. So Palmquist leaves Satan and the occult behind (save for the story of “Clarence, the female impersonator” whose trip into forced gay prostitution began by being “raised by the high priest and priestess of a satanic cult”, p.126-127) and turns to fight the human demons in this word: Pimps. (Throw enough shit at the wall, and eventually something will stick, right Palmquist?)
Despite having worked with teens on the streets, it is now that Palmquist discovers, and justifiably becomes outraged by, forced prostitution and the physical and emotional abuse these women suffer. He is even seemingly frustrated by how the women and girls who came forward to prosecute pimps & captors for rape and abduction are just met with shoulder-shrugging. But he is particularly sickened to “learn” these women are trapped as young girls, known as “chilli-dog hookers” on the streets. He and Jesus are now on the case. Together they are out to save these victims.
But, wait… If these women are such victims, then why was this “praise” for his wife on page 51 of The Minnesota Connection necessary?
It’s a pretty foreign concept for the average wife to imagine her husband working so closely with other women, let alone prostitutes. My wife accepted it, understood and was trying to help me meet my commitments.
Ah, women… We’re so protective of our men and fearful of other women stealing them or leading them astray… Even the victimized are threats to our big strong, God-fearing men. *snort*
Again, on page 103, Palmquist forces the issue with his wife, playing on her fears. “Doesn’t it ever bother you that your husband spends most of time working with younger women whose lives have been devoted to sex?” Mrs. Palmquist responds with a pithy “The Bible has a lot to say about helping prostitutes, you know.” But no one ever mentions that it’s his ~ or any man’s ~ responsibility to keep his penis in his pants.
But factual responsibilities are not Mr. Palmquist’s forte.
Based on the comments of a few people, Palmquist becomes fixated on the notion of a “Minnesota Pipeline” that delivers women to pimps in New York. From pages 34-35 of The Minnesota Connection:
Now it seemed others, preferably blonds, were being hauled across the country to be sold in a market called ‘The Minnesota Strip,’ the long, sin-soaked blocks that ran off Times Square along 8th Avenue. I remembered the area from when I’d worked with Teen Challenge, but I’d never guessed that many of the girls were imported from my home state.
I called the Captain. “What do you know about a pipeline feeding hookers to New York?”
He estimated that over a thousand girls between the ages of twelve and twenty-one had been funneled from the Midwest to the streets of New York in recent years. Many were from Minnesota because eastern johns preferred Scandinavian blonds. Most were never heard from again.
The first point: Despite having worked as a police officer in New York, Palmquist had never heard of the “Minnesota Strip” before. …Isn’t that suspicious?
Anyway, once Palmquist and his sensational claims hit the media, especially as a guest on The Phil Donahue Show, it prompted a huge reaction from Minnesota residents ~ and therefore Minnesota public officials. One of the first things embarrassed and concerned state officials did, along with several private foundations, was to finance a study of the problem. The study was conducted by a social service agency called Enablers, Inc., and the report, Juvenile Prostitution in Minnesota, was published in August of 1978. According to Controlling Vice In Minnesota During The 1970s, a report by the Minnesota Crime Prevention Center, Inc. published in 1980, the conclusions of the report “disputed virtually all of the claims of the two Minneapolis police officers.” And, just to be clear, Al Palmquist is named as one of those two Minneapolis police officers.
Further maddening is the other notation in Minnesota Crime Prevention Center’s report:
The study results came out a year later, buried in the middle of the local news section of the paper.
In other words, the facts couldn’t get in the way of a good story.
I would say that Palmquist made the whole Minnesota Strip thing up, but there’s the pesky trouble of an article which ran in the November 19, 1972 edition of the Minnesota Tribune. I have not been able to secure the article, entitled Runaways Lured into Prostitution in City ‘Work’ the Streets of N.Y., but that 1980 Minnesota Crime Prevention Center report references it, saying:
According to a New York police sargeant who was interviewed, “Minneapolis supplies more hookers to us than any other city in the country, with the possible exception of Washington, D.C.”
The name of that New York police sergeant and whether or not he used the phrase “Minneapolis Strip” remains unknown for now… But I did begin to wonder if Palmquist himself coined the phrase. Most all references, from Time Magazine in 1977 to 2004’s New York: The Unknown City, mention either Palmquist by name or Minneapolis police when referencing the Minnesota Strip. …Everything seemed to circle back to Palmquist. Until, that is, I discovered Ted Morgan’s Little Ladies Of The Night in the November 16, 1975, edition of the New York Times. In that article, Sgt. Jim Greenlay and Officer Warren McGinniss of the NYPD’s Runaway Unit discuss the strip ~ and how it got its name:
In the muster room, they noticed a group of young women who had been picked up by a Prostitution Control Unit sweep on a section of Eighth Avenue that has become known to police as “the Minnesota Strip.” Ever since Minnesota passed a law making a second offense punishable by a mandatory 90-day sentence, substantial numbers of that state’s prostitutes have migrated to New York’s more hospitable climate.
Amazing Appalling how no one else so far had made mention of the fact that stronger laws had been enacted against the supposed victims and just how that might impact their lives.
But how is it that Palmquist, who had worked with troubled youth in New York as part of Teen Challenge, had not known of this Minnesota connection? Since it was the function of the Runaway Unit to “patrol the streets of New York looking for minors who have fled their homes,” you would think that Palmquist would have known of the theory, if not Greenlay and McGinniss themselves. (Both police officers are also referenced in Anna Kosof’s Runaways and stated as each having had more than 20 years of service; surely there should have been some connection or communication.)
Whether Palmquist was ignorant or not, the notion that it was laws against prostitution which drove the prostitutes themselves isn’t such a good story for the public. The public never wants to hear that their fear-based and/or moral-routed legislation isn’t solving a problem; much easier to sell the public on a black devil… An actual black devil. A better story, one sure to sell papers, is one in which there are black pimps trafficking young white girls through an underground pipeline.
That brings us to the second point: One of the reasons this was such a “good story,” was that the press and the public were concerned about the pretty white, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, girls. (And those at the mercy of scary black pimps, as evidenced on the cover as well.)
Despite all the talk of fair-haired girls of Scandinavian descent, of the nine photographs of prostitutes or former prostitutes in the book, only one of them is assuredly fair-haired.
While at least one of the photos seems to be of a Black woman, there is no mention of her story ~ or value. She is an illustrative point; perhaps for “inclusion”, a token. No stories contain descriptions of anyone other than white (and presumed to be heterosexual due to omission of any “other”) females. Because those are the precious girls. Those are the valuable women, equal in the eyes of the sex trafficking pimps and the media that writes with concern about them. Because that’s what the john-consumers of either service care about most.
Victimized valuable white girls make for a good story. A salacious story that sells.
And a “good story” it was. Even before Palmquist could take his show on the road to New York to rescue his victims, he was becoming a media star. Which is why when he arrived in New York to stop the “Minnesota Pipeline”, the press was there, ready to document his war against sin.
The best synopsis of the New York rescue plan is provided by an article published in The Daily Herald on December 28, 1977. (This would be coverage of the second attempt, but it’s rather the same reach-out rescue attempt, just with more participants.) The amazing title of the article is “Teenaged Harlots Get Help” (“Harlots” hardly sound like victims) and it described the sex trafficking rescue thus:
The officers and their recruits [reformed drug addicts and prostitutes] will hand out cards with a telephone number to call for help. Palmquist said the girls wishing help will be whisked away in the van to protect them from retaliation by their pimps.
Wouldn’t whisking young girls away in vans be how this all supposedly started? Maybe Palmquist is the problem. But no, Palmquist never fetched a single person from New York. Not in either of his two documented trips there.
The failure of the first trip to New York to end the mighty & imaginary pipeline was blamed on the interference of the camera crews and other publicity. The second trip to New York, equally fruitless, was blamed on the New York City Police Department for conducting a street raid earlier. Like Bigfoot hunters, rather than accept they are looking for something which does not exist Palmquist and his followers continue to hunt. But the fact remains that the total number of women rescued in both trips was zero.
This, however, would not deter Palmquist or the mission.
Palmquist, no stranger to making a buck for (or off?) his rehabilitation programs via speeches (shown in many of these archived newspaper clippings) and decorative name plaques (via ARK Products), was accused of perhaps mistaking his mission. One could also argue the fact that during his heydey, Palmquist’s was much like a pimp, exploiting “his girls” and milking the publicity of his programs for his own agenda. From From Cop To Star: Minnesota Prostitution Problem Has Led Him To Some Controversy (The Evening Independent, February 22, 1978):
Promotion of the book — and Palmquist — is being handles by Creative Resources, a literary promotion agency which discovers, develops and promotes “super-novels.”
“They don’t handle a book unless it’s a sure bestseller,” Palmquist said. “In a month or so, you’re not going to be able to go into a supermarket in the Twin Cities and not see it.”
(Actual writing of the book is done by a Madison, Wisc., author, John Stone. He and Palmquist met several months ago while waiting to go on the same Twin Cities talk show.)
Since the New York City trip in December, Palmquist has had feelers from Hollywood producers interested in making a movie and a television series about him. He now handles a full schedule of speaking engagements, has appeared on local and national television talk shows and was written up in People magazine.
And he has seriously considered running for public office, perhaps mayor of Minneapolis.
Palmquist’s rise to media stardom on the issue of juvenile prostitution has caused hard feeling among people who have been working in that area for years. Lt. Gary McGaughey, who has worked with prostitutes for eight years and was Palmquist’s partner in New York, now questions his motivation.
“This whole thing is kind of like a fantasy to him,’ McGaughey said. “I told him we should be working with these kids instead of making movies, writing books and putting money in our pockets.”
But to Palmquist, the publicity is a way to get support for a program he claims is the only successful attempt at helping prostitutes in the country.
Given all Palmquist’s other inaccurate claims, forgive me if I remain more than skeptical about the money.
[The term “super-novels” sounds like book publishing code for “pulp” and “exploitation” to me.]
The article in The Evening Independent continues:
The heavy emphasis on “born-again” Christianity makes some social workers and agencies uneasy about the program. McGaughey said it “substitutes one pimp for another,” referring to the encouragement of emotional dependence on God.
…The Christianity is such an integral part of the treatment that Palmquist said he would “resign tomorrow” if he were prohibited from using the approach.
…”I don’t think anyone will get out of prostitution on a flophouse deal,” said Palmquist. “The only way I know for a girl to get out is to have a mind to change, and that won’t happen unless God does that.”
So, are these girls victims of predatory and controlling pimps, or are they sinners who must have their souls managed by a deity ~ and one Palmquist believes in? I’m with McGaughey again.
Supposedly this book was made into a film by the same name. Palmquist says it was “a full feature award winning film.” In another article promoting yet another Palmquist appearance ~ nearly a decade later (Daily Sitcak Sentinal, June 21, 1985), the film is said to have “won the Best Picture award in 1983 as the nation’s best docu-drama based on a true story.” However, I found no mention of this film actually having been made other than as a bio note for Nancy Hays, who’s listed among her credits being “an actress and singer in a made-for-TV film The Minnesota Connection.” The IMDB has no record of this film; nor did I find any references at this film, let alone awards, at the official sites for the Emmys or The Golden Globes.
Off The Minnesota Strip did win an award: writer David Chase won an Emmy for ‘Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or Special’ for the film. (TCM has the female singer listed as Peggy Blue ~ could that be Nancy Hays?) In any case, that made for TV movie clearly capitalized on the sex-sational aspects of The Minnesota Connection. (Perhaps they didn’t want to pay Palmquist what he was asking?)
However, the sexploitative sensation of white slavery begins to die down a bit. At least book sales of The Minnesota Connection must have slowed, for Palmquist works with another writer, Mandy Taylor, to put ink to paper to produce The Love Factor (1982).
Kimberly’s story is fictional, but the circumstances of her introduction to prostitution and the pimps and Johns who people this vicious underworld are real — as is the freedom Kimberly found in her life-changing encounter with The Love Factor.
At least this book was a bit clearer and used the word “fictional.” But clearly, Palmquist continues to strive for profit off the salacious lives of women ~ so long as they contain the stories of his attempts at their salvation. For whatever they suffer, even if they die, he seems fine to profit off “his girls” (as he refers to them on page 108) like any pimp. (So old Hollywood film code!)
As you can see, the requisite pimp in purple on the cover of The Minnesota Connection is no accident; pulp cover art is how one sells exploitative fiction.
I am not the only one who sees Palmquist’s work in such a light. Again, not only have studies and other evidence destroyed the fiction of his numbers and the pipeline theory, but Dorothy McBride Stetson covers the new face of the old hysteria in The Invisible Issue: Prostitution & Trafficking of Women & Girls in the United States (part of The Politics of Prostitution: Women’s Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce, edited by Joyce Outshoorn). Stetson writes:
Somewhere along the line, the idea of a ‘pipeline’ of traffic in girls (usually portrayed as blondes) from states like Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota to become hooker for Times Square pimps (usually portrayed as black) in New New York caught the public imagination. A crusade by Al Palmquist, a Minneapolis detective and self-styled preacher, seemed to resurrect the idea of white slavery and debauchery and put a ‘seventies’ face on it.
Flash forward several decades to the current face of white slave hysteria.
North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch is pumping a million barrels a day ~ but that’s not the only pumping folks are concerned about. As noted before (here too), the oil boom riches are creating worries about
b- sex for hire.
Even my beloved NPR fell for the story ~ including tossing in a quote containing the oft used bullshit about the average age of entry into prostitution is 13. It is a lie, people! But just like the legend of the Minnesota pipeline of prostitutes to New York, if you say it enough… *sigh*
This past January, WDAY’s Kevin Wallevand produced a documentary on the subject called Trafficked: The Exploitation Of Women & Girls In The Bakken & Beyond. (Note: This mentions research and reporting on trafficking done by Fargo’s Forum newspaper; WDAY is part of the Forum Communications family.) The mini-doc focuses on the growing pains of the Williston area, how it’s no longer “small towns” but “big city problems”, and how, now that there are all these guys making a lot of money, sex is for sale “everywhere” including WalMart. The film is just under 29 minutes, and so worth watching.
This short documentary has much in common with The Minnesota Connection. It employs nearly all same tactics. There are the personal stories of horror, including how the victims have been brainwashed, threatened, and branded by their sex traffickers. It even has a Minnesota connection. Ann Leuthard of Fraser’s Stepping Stones Program says, “There’s a lot of recruiting, I think, that occurs in this area. …It’s a direct line from Minneapolis & they get here and then they can be centrally located in Fargo and then off-shoot out west…” Another pipeline, equally proven, but this time coming from Minnesota. (The Twin Cities would, after all, be big city New York to those in the Bakken or Fargo-Moorhead.)
And like Palmquist’s book, Trafficked too messes with the facts.
The statistic on crime, the 120% increase, reported is troubling. Primarily it is upsetting to me as it is not attributed to any source; nor is it put into any context. The closest I came to substantiating the claim was a 2014 article in The Washington Post:
Violent crime in North Dakota’s Williston Basin region, which includes the reservation, increased 121 percent from 2005 to 2011.
For some context we turn to a 2012 North Dakota State University study on the Williston Basin area. It states that the population from the petroleum industry alone grew by something like 500%.
Couple that rapid population growth with other factors, such as how long it takes for governments to implement the response in appropriate levels of law enforcement, and that 121% increase in crime doesn’t seem quite so alarming. (However, the FBI is now setting up shop in the region.) But where does sex trafficking come in?
While sex trafficking became classified as a violent crime in 2011, things are not very clear in terms of this 121% increase… What percent of the violent crimes are from sex trafficking? What percent is drunk guys attacking one another in bars, domestic violence charges, murders? No one seems to want to split that data. Even data released from the North Dakota Attorney General’s office on the crime of prostitution doesn’t separate the victims of sex trafficking from those who elected to enter sex work.
In any case, it hardly looks like a sex trafficking or even a prostitution epidemic, does it?
The Billings Gazette warns us that the “initial arrest and conviction numbers may not seem terribly shocking”, noting:
In the past year, federal and state courts in North Dakota have charged seven people with offenses related to sex trafficking or felony facilitating or promoting prostitution. The cases involve allegations in Bismarck, Minot, Williston and Dickinson, including the case of one man who pleaded guilty to enticing women to travel to the “fracking areas” to work as prostitutes and two accused of operating brothels in Oil Patch cities.
More than a dozen men were convicted in the state in 2014 in federal and state courts for seeking to buy sex with underage girls.
…Paula Bosh, who has worked as a victim specialist with the FBI in Minot for 11 years, never encountered a human trafficking case until recently. She now estimates she has worked with 12 adult victims of sex trafficking in northwest North Dakota in the past 1½ years.
But Bosh also attributes the increase in the number of sex trafficking victims to more than the situation in the Bakken; she thinks it is also due to a education about sex trafficking. “I think with greater awareness comes greater reporting,” Bosh said.
But how much of the sex trafficking is real? We all know one sex trafficked victim is one too many, but is it really a problem worthy of so much news coverage? Again from the Billings Gazette:
Polaris CEO Bradley Myles said people who track online ads for commercial sex noticed a spike in the Bakken region, and anecdotal reports from victim advocates and nonprofit groups also raised red flags.
I’d be more comfortable with data, not anecdotal reports, thank you.
Meanwhile, Judge David Nelson says there’s been a dramatic change in crime in terms of the degree of violence. “It’s not just two guys duking it out and shaking hands,” he says. “The knives come out. People drive cars over other people. The guns come out.” But he makes no mention of any sex trafficking or sex trafficking related violence.
But then those stories of drunk guys and, especially, domestic violence aren’t issues the public wants to deal with. We know those people… It makes us uncomfortable. Plus, it’s all too complicated. Like those sex workers who supposedly left Minnesota for New York in the 1970s, folks would rather have someone else to blame… A less complex target for anguish and anger. It’s much simpler to designate black devils.
Again, following The Minnesota Connection format, this documentary shows the faces of black male sex traffickers. Sure, they scroll by some of the white male traffickers; but they really focus on the faces of the black ones. And the white slavery picture is complete with all white female victims. Other than the one Native American woman who speaks ~ and formally featured because of the drilling done on reservations ~ all white women were presented. Not just as victims and survivors, but as experts, reporters, and commentators too. Yeah, it’s 90% white out in North Dakota. But it’s not like they screen at the borders. And with the population boom, number of experts available, well, come on now.
If you watched Trafficked, you likely noticed that Wallevand sure loves the romance of the Wild West; in several places, especially his closing, his is so poetic it’s alarming. All that Wild West talk & imagery… I smelled a thinly veiled old soiled doves trope. Even without it, Trafficked was full of many sexploitation shotguns aimed at wedding the viewing public to the notion and fear of white slavery. You know, so that the citizenry would take action.
The citizens of North Dakota are currently taking legislative action. Senate Bill 2107 is supposedly aimed at “compassion, not persecution” of the victims of the sex trade. However, despite all the concern for the victims, their horrors, sorrows, and voiceless status, that legislation comes with its own gag order. Language in the bill specifies that no state money for human trafficking victim services is to be used to “refer for or counsel” victims “in favor of abortion.” Thanks for your morality, North Dakota. But of course, rape is beautiful if there’s a baby at the end. So glad we can’t shut that whole thing down. Sane people may sign the petition regarding the stupidity of the gag order in North Dakota’s Senate Bill 2107 here.
Lastly, the mini-documentary Trafficked also features religion. While certainly not as preachy as Palmquist, the film featured groups seeking to help victims of sex trafficking, such as 4Her North Dakota Ministry and Voice For The Captives ~ the latter of which states its mission is “to abolish sex-trafficking through the love and power of Jesus Christ.” Sounds much like Palmquist’s pray-away method of recovery, if not as terrible as Project Rose.
Lest you think the ham-handedness religious mission of Palmquist and the thrill of sexploitation entertainment is truly the stuff of yore, I point your direction to 8 Minutes, the pending A&E reality show in which a former cop-turned-pastor by the name of Kevin Brown endeavors to “save” women who are selling sex by preaching at them for eight minutes in a hotel room. Sound familiar? Only this is worse, because it’s filmed.
If you are sane and find the very idea of this TV show exploitative, sexist, and dangerous, you can sign a petition against it. That page also has info on A&E sponsors, so you can contact them and/or boycott as you wish.
So, what have we learned…
In the nearly 40 years since Palmquist’s book, the same old white slavery keys continue to be employed to the locks on the shackles of sex slavery. It’s no wonder nothing’s been unlocked.