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State report calls for a Safe Harbor for trafficked kids

  • Article by: JOY POWELL
  • Star Tribune
  • January 18, 2013 - 11:18 PM

To prevent youth across the state from being sexually exploited, a new report calls for Minnesota to create a statewide human-trafficking director, victim shelters and housing, and training to help professionals identify and help those kids.

Those and eight other changes are called for in "No Wrong Door: A Comprehensive Approach to Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth," which was prepared by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and funded by the Women's Foundation of Minnesota.

According to a 2010 "Human Trafficking in Minnesota" report, assessing the level of victimization is difficult. However, 67 percent of service providers had served a victim and 18 percent of law enforcement respondents had a labor or sex-trafficking arrest or investigation.

It's a model recognizing that most youths forced into prostitution, sometimes at a very young age, don't have the life experience or support system to protect them from the pimps' control tactics, ranging from assault to providing drugs and alcohol, to putting kids into situations where they act as criminals, further damaging their sense of identity.

"These recommendations ensure communities across Minnesota have the knowledge, skills and resources to effectively identify and serve sexually exploited youth and youth at risk for sexual exploitation," said Jeff Bauer of the Family Partnership, a nonprofit organization that helps vulnerable children and families.

"This victim-centered model will help prevent youth from future exploitation and move our communities toward a better understanding of what sexual exploitation is and how to prevent it," Bauer said Friday.

The model was developed by 65 criminal justice professionals, social service providers and others over the past year.

It would coordinate law enforcement efforts statewide; create six "navigator" positions to serve as experts in their locales for those who need resources in working with sex-trafficked kids; and ramp up outreach efforts.

"There is a great need for all of this, and over the past two years, I think ... we are starting to recognize that this is truly happening right here in our community," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said.

Law enforcement has so far shown a "great response" to the problem, Choi said, and the victim-centered approach of not charging young prostitutes is key to helping young people understand what happened to them and eliciting their cooperation as witnesses. "That results in an enhanced ability to investigate and prosecute these crimes," Choi said.

The creation of the No Wrong Door Model is one of five provisions included in Minnesota's Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth. Passed in July 2011, the law defined sexually exploited youth in Minnesota's child protection statutes and increased the penalties against abusers.

The Safe Harbor Act includes a provision that will define all sex-trafficked children under the age of 18 as victims, rather than delinquents, beginning next year.

And the mandatory court diversion for those who are 16 or 17 and get into trouble for first-time prostituting is to begin in 2014. Other plans include emergency shelters, transitional living programs, and five supportive housing units with services for chemical dependency and mental health services.

The total Safe Harbor budget proposal is nearly $13.6 million for the 2012-13 biennium and needs legislative approval.

The model requires extensive training, coordination of resources and oversight, so the position of statewide director is recommended, at a yearly salary of $82,000.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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