The sex trafficking of minors is getting intensified attention in Minnesota and on the biggest of national stages this week, namely Tuesday’s State of the Union address, officials said Monday.
With $1 million in funding from the state Department of Human Services, various organizations are being contracted by the agency to provide emergency shelter, transitional and supportive housing for young people caught up in sex trafficking.
“We recognize that sexually exploited youth are victims of horrendous crimes,” Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said in a statement announcing the coordinated effort. “We want to do everything in our power to ensure they get the services they need to recover.”
Also assisting are the state Departments of Health and Public Safety. The nonprofit organizations involved are:
• The Link, providing emergency shelter in the Twin Cities area.
• Heartland for Girls, providing supportive housing in Benson.
• Life House, providing emergency shelter in Duluth.
• Breaking Free, providing transitional housing in St. Paul.
“These four organizations have a long history of working with youth and some with sexually exploited youth,” Jesson said. “We have every confidence they will provide the critical services to meet the needs of these youth to help them move forward toward healthy futures.”
Breaking Free’s founder, Vednita Carter, will attend President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday as the guest of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn. Also, Paulsen asked Obama in a letter to speak about sex trafficking in his speech to the joint session of Congress.
“Vednita has selflessly made it her life’s mission to help these women and girls who are trapped in sex slavery and exploitation,” Paulsen said. “I truly believe that working together with both parties, in both chambers, and alongside tireless advocates like Vednita Carter, we can find a way to end this awful crime and protect the thousands of victims.”
Paulsen introduced the “Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act” with Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., which seeks to improve data systems that track missing children, as well as provide proper designation to ensure victims receive the care and help they need.
Every year, Breaking Free helps an average of 400 to 500 women and girls escape systems of prostitution and sexual exploitation through advocacy, direct services, housing and education. Based in St. Paul, it also has branches in Rochester and Minneapolis.
In another nod to the bipartisan effort in the state, U.S. Sen. Klobuchar, D-Minn., in November introduced the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, which is modeled after Minnesota’s Safe Harbor laws. Its aim is to prod all states to enact Safe Harbor provisions to ensure that minors who are trafficked are treated as victims.
Other provisions in Klobuchar’s legislation include helping trafficking victims recover damages. About a dozen states have some form of Safe Harbor laws.