Survivors of sexual exploitation say education on healthy relationships could be key in reducing trafficking in Minnesota, according to a report released Monday.
The 43-page report, released as part of the Hennepin County No Wrong Door initiative, features the anonymous voices of more than 70 survivors and their allies who shared their opinions on how to prevent sexual exploitation and what services are needed. In addition to education, those surveyed also said that while they would like more prosecution of perpetrators, they also encouraged therapy for them.
“It can be tricky to get the voices of survivors, for lots of reasons,” said No Wrong Door coordinator Amanda Koonjbeharry. “It’s crucial to have something like this. We need to know what victims and survivors need.”
When discussing prevention, most participants said informative sexual health education classes with an emphasis on relationships is important. The report found that a majority of survivors had never seen a healthy relationship, Koonjbeharry said. Survey participants ranged in age from 12 to 46.
“That, as a foundation, plays a role in being potential risk factors to making somebody more susceptible to trafficking or exploitation,” Koonjbeharry said.
Several survey participants said troubles in their own families can give them a warped perspective on what makes a healthy relationship. Some reported dating when they were as young as 11 years old.
“When I was growing up I was barely a teenager and I was hanging out with people, guys much older than me. I never had a father figure in my life,” one respondent said. “These people we would meet would be older than me and I thought it was love. Now I know it was to fill a void.”
The report is a collaborative effort from Hennepin County, the Ramsey County attorney’s office, Paula Schaefer and Associates, and the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The Hennepin County Board approved the No Wrong Door initiative in 2014 to provide more aggressive and efficient help for sexually exploited children. The plan is a direct response to Minnesota’s Safe Harbor legislation, passed in 2011, that said children involved in prostitution should be treated as victims, not criminals.