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Runaways are vulnerable
Although reliable statistics are difficult to come by, advocates say that runaways are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. RIP reports that between November 2005 and June 2013, the program screened 2,577 cases. About 96 percent of the cases were girls, and 4 percent boys. The average age of runaways screened was 14, and 560 cases reported being sexually exploited, raped or having suffered incest. (Some cases could involve multiple categories of exploitation.)
Breaking Free, a Minnesota nonprofit that works with victims of trafficking and prostitution, served 466 victims and survivors in the past fiscal year, 145 of whom were between ages 16 and 21, said Noelle Volin, the group’s staff attorney and director of policy.
Sometimes it may be too difficult for youth to participate in the process of charging a trafficker criminally, said Laurel Edinburgh, a nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics in St. Paul who helped develop RIP.
A tool to protect children
“I think we need some tool to keep [alleged perpetrators] away,” Edinburgh said. “We’re not going to be able to help [victims] if they have ongoing contact with their trafficker.”
The civil statute is “written quite broadly” to protect juveniles from parents or other adults who harm them, accommodating Choi’s strategy, said Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law.
But there is still a gray area, some say.
“The pseudo-criminal tone, even though this is a civil proceeding, casts kind of a serious civil liberties question on it,” said Eileen Scallen, associate dean at the UCLA School of Law. “It’s a very hard balance. ”
One concern Samuelson has is that violating a no-contact order is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Depending on the case and the suspect’s history, a violation could be elevated to a gross misdemeanor or felony.
“You’re putting them in jail for a criminal offense,” Samuelson said, “but it’s a wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”
Staff writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708