Imran Ali is uncomfortable talking about himself. And he absolutely hates taking credit for spearheading Washington County’s fight against sex trafficking.
“For every good case that I have, and for every good thing that I do, it means that I have a good police officer, a good detective and a good police agency that is finding that victim and recovering them,” Ali says.
Besides that, he points out, it was Washington County Attorney Pete Orput who decided his major crimes division needed to put sex trafficking high on its priority list, and Orput who chose Ali to take charge of those efforts.
Ali tends to see crime through a victim’s eyes. To him, the young women ensnared by sex traffickers are victims, not criminals. It’s an approach he calls “compassionate prosecution.”
The emphasis no longer is on prosecuting women but instead is on those who use coercion, manipulation and violence to traffic in human beings.
Ali does credit himself for one important observation: Sex trafficking has shifted to an online and social media phenomenon.
His office tracked 74,273 sex solicitations on Backpage.com in the Twin Cities metro last year. “That tells you it’s a problem,” Ali said.
In 2016, the first year of its initiative, Washington County launched 16 sex trafficking prosecutions, Ali said; in 2015, it had none. Washington County also found and offered services to more than 45 sex-trafficking victims, Ali said.
Ali is now busy expanding those efforts. He is helping the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota gear up its fight against sex trafficking during the upcoming 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. He also is working with the St. Paul Police Department’s Gerald D. Vick Human Trafficking Task Force to develop a regionally coordinated, victim-centered approach to human trafficking.
“It is our neighbors, our children — it truly shows no bounds, Ali said. “I think it is a big misconception when people think that this is the underbelly and that they have no connection to it. It is all over the place. It’s everywhere.”