Minnesota launches Safe Harbor for sexually exploited youth
Minnesota has launched its new statewide system for helping sexually exploited youth that treats them as abused individuals needing help and support rather than as criminals.
Minnesota’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Law went into full effect August 1. The law decriminalizes prostitution charges for youth under 18, increases the penalties for buyers (Johns), and creates a statewide system for helping sexually exploited youth. The law was implemented in phases after it was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton in 2011.
“We are giving safe harbor to young women and men by not only removing criminal charges but also by providing them with the counseling, support, and housing services they may need to fulfill their true potential and reclaim their lives,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger.
The Minnesota Department of Health has awarded grants supporting eight Safe Harbor regional navigators located across the state. Now in place, these navigators are a key part of Minnesota’s effort to help girls and boys leave behind abuse and exploitation related to prostitution or “survival sex,” where youths trade sex for food or shelter. Navigators serve as regional experts for connecting sexually exploited youth with services. They are also central points of contact for communities, health systems, juvenile justice personnel, parents and any concerned Minnesotans seeking information or resources.
Those with questions or concerns are encouraged to reach out to one of the state’s regional navigators:
- Breaking Free, St. Paul; Twin Cities, east metro.
- The Link, Minneapolis; Twin Cities, west metro.
- Heartland Girls’ Ranch, Benson; central Minnesota.
- Program to Aid Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA), Duluth; northeast Minnesota.
- Southwest Crisis Center, Worthington; southwest Minnesota.
- Support within Reach, Bemidji; covering northwest Minnesota.
- Dodge, Fillmore and Olmsted County Victim Services, Rochester; southeast Minnesota.
- Down on Violence Everyday, (DOVE); White Earth Nation as American Indian navigator, partnering with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Red LakeBand of Chippewa Indians.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services funds four organizations to provide emergency shelter, transitional and supportive housing specific to addressing the needs of sex-trafficked minors:
- Breaking Free, providing transitional housing in St. Paul.
- Heartland for Girls, providing supportive housing in Benson.
- Life House, providing emergency shelter in Duluth.
- The Link, providing emergency shelter and supportive housing in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
“These four organizations have a long history of working with youth and some with sexually exploited youth, and they will provide the critical services these youth need to move forward toward healthy futures,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.
The law also directs the commissioner of public safety to work with stakeholders to create a victim-centered response to sexually exploited youth. “This law puts the focus on the real criminals,” said Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. “In the past, many victims have been afraid to work with investigators because they feared retaliation from pimps and because they were treated as criminals. This approach increases the likelihood that victims will help law enforcement and prosecutors.”
The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Minnesota Coalition against Sexual Assault will develop statewide protocols for professionals working with sexually exploited youth. Additionally, Ramsey County Attorney’s Office will train law enforcement and prosecutors on sexually exploitation beginning fall, 2014.
Safe Harbor will also help Minnesota get a better understanding of how often sexual exploitation occurs in Minnesota. The 2006 Wilder Foundation youth homelessness study found that 12 percent of the homeless youth (16 percent of the females and 5 percent of the males) had experienced sexual exploitation at least once, and 16 percent had been approached by someone who encouraged them to enter into the sex industry. In addition, a study by the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach Center found that 50 percent of the women in the study had first been exploited at an average age of 12 to 14.
For updates and more information on Safe Harbor implementation, please visit MDH’s Safe Harbor website at http://www.health.state.mn.us/injury/topic/safeharbor/.