Minnesota state health officials outlined a plan Friday to broaden the state’s sex trafficking laws to provide services and protections to victims of all ages.
The state’s Safe Harbor law, which passed in 2011, primarily addresses the exploitation and commercial sex trafficking of youth. For example, the law removed prostitution charges for those under 18 and created a statewide system that provides housing and services for victims through age 24.
Last year, state lawmakers wanted to explore the idea of helping all victims of sex trafficking, regardless of age. “They realize that the harms that people face when they’re trafficked or exploited don’t stop at 18 or 24,” said Beatriz Menanteau, who oversees the sexual violence and Safe Harbor programs at the Minnesota Department of Health.
But changing laws and policies for adults can be more nuanced and complicated, and the report released Friday delves into some of those issues.
“There’s a lot that can be done to address and ameliorate the harm for [sex trafficking] victims,” Menanteau added.
For example, lawmakers could consider whether to eliminate or expunge the criminal penalties for adult victims that make finding jobs and housing more difficult. The report also explores a range of ideas from changing terminology in Minnesota laws, such as eliminating the word “prostitute,” to making services available to all victims.
The report, however, makes it clear that those who sell or buy men and women for sex should still be punished.
“We want to be explicit that sex trafficking is a human rights violation and a public health issue,” Menanteau said. “It should remain a criminal offense for traffickers and those who buy sex.”