November 17, 2015
Minnesota releases first youth sexual exploitation report and recommendations to improve services
A first-year evaluation of the state’s Safe Harbor Program credits it with raising awareness and understanding of the sexual exploitation of young men and women in Minnesota and provides key information about the youth who are victims.
The Safe Harbor First Year Evaluation Overview, released by the Minnesota departments of Health and Human Services, is the first report of its kind on Safe Harbor, the new statewide system for helping sexually exploited youth younger than age 18 years, which went into full effect in 2014. The Safe Harbor program provides these youths support and services rather than treating them as delinquents and criminals. Wilder Research conducted the evaluation and wrote the report, including recommendations to improve the program.
The program’s first year impact includes raising awareness and understanding, a shift away from seeing these youths as delinquents, increased attempts to improve services, and new opportunities for collaboration, coordination, referrals and housing services.
“The Safe Harbor program is successfully helping young women and men reclaim their lives,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “We are encouraging everyone involved with teens to become aware of Safe Harbor, as we expect there are many more youths who need help.”
Minnesota has eight Safe Harbor regional navigators across the state to help sexually exploited youth. From April 2014 to April 2015, these navigators provided services to 163 youths, housing and shelter services were provided for 74 youths and referrals to service providers were provided for 121 youths. Counts may include duplication, since the names of the youths were not shared with Wilder.
Safe Harbor also works with community organizations to create emergency, transitional and permanent housing for sexually exploited youth. These organizations work with the Regional Navigators and other community partners to safely house sexually exploited youth and address their unique housing needs.
"DHS and many other agencies have have partnered closely to meet the needs of sex trafficked youth in Minnesota,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jessen. “Our role in developing shelter and supportive housing for these vulnerable youth helps them stabilize and begin to heal.”
Nearly all of the youths were women (97 percent) and about 60 percent lived in the Twin Cities.
About half of all of the teens (54 percent) were enrolled in school and lived with a parent or guardian (52 percent). About two thirds have a history of drug use (59 percent), depression or PTSD (63 percent) and a history of running away from home (69 percent).
Statewide 56 percent of the youths were trafficked, 41 percent were involved in survival sex, and 20 percent posed for nude photos, pornography or videos.
“In the past, children and youth were treated as criminals instead as the victims of sex trafficking,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. “The Safe Harbor law has allowed youth that have been sexually exploited and trafficked to be treated as the victims they are, and provides them with the resources that promote safety, stability and hope for a better future.”
The report authors provided 11 recommendations based on the data collected from interviews with key stakeholders and Safe Harbor grantees. Recommendations included more funding for the program, expanding the age limit of the Safe Harbor law to 18 years and older, develop more transportation and 24 hour services, and create more housing.
In 2015, the Minnesota Legislature increased funding for Safe Harbor efforts to $8.3 million that is shared each biennium by three state agencies, MDH, DPS, and DHS.