Landmark legislation helps Minnesota children who are victims of sex trafficking

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Today, Minnesota State Senate President Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) and Representative Susan Allen (DFL-Minneapolis) announced landmark legislation—the first of its kind in the nation—to comprehensively address child sex trafficking in Minnesota. The legislation will be introduced in the state Legislature early next week.

The bill expands Minnesota’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Law (Safe Harbor) that was signed into law in July 2011. The 2011 law ensures that children 15 years and younger who are sexually exploited or at risk of exploitation are treated as victims under state law, not as criminals.

As mandated by Safe Harbor, Minnesota’s Commissioner of Public Safety and a broad coalition of stakeholders worked together to create a victim-centered response to child sex trafficking. The group’s report, No Wrong Door, identifies specific measures needed to help victims of child sex trafficking. The report was presented to the Minnesota Legislature in January and is the genesis of the new bill.

The bill creates a safety net of housing and support services for child sex trafficking victims and includes appropriations associated with the measures. Beginning the moment a front-line worker suspects a child is a victim, the legislation provides funding for safe housing, trauma treatment, and medical and mental health care. It also provides capacity-building and training dollars to law enforcement and nonprofit organizations serving homeless youth.

The legislation’s key provisions and associated appropriations include:

§ Construction, renovation and operation of Safe Harbor shelter and housing for sex-trafficked youth.

§ Establishment of a Safe Harbor supportive services fund to provide therapeutic, culturally-specific services for sex-trafficked children.

§ Creation of a Safe Harbor training fund to ensure that law enforcement and other front-line personnel have the training they need to identify child sex trafficking victims and to aggressively investigate and prosecute traffickers.

§ Creation of a statewide Safe Harbor director, six grant-funded regional navigator positions, and 14 grant-funded youth street outreach positions across Minnesota.

“Although Minnesota has been a leader in combating sex trafficking, this is the first time there is a comprehensive approach to support victims. No child willingly chooses to be sexually exploited,” said Minnesota State Senator Sandy Pappas, President of the Minnesota Senate and chief Senate author of the new legislation. “Two years ago, we made the decision to no longer prosecute trafficked children. Now, it is time to protect them, as well.”

“Minnesota was one of the first states to pass a Safe Harbor law,” said Minnesota State Representative Susan Allen, chief House author of the new legislation. “Now, we’re taking the lead to ensure that these children are treated as victims of a crime and can get the support and services they need.”

“Sex trafficking is a cancer in our community and it is critical that we have the resources to threat this disease,” said Ramsey County Attorney John J. Choi. “This legislation will advance the vision of a victim-centered response to sex trafficking which not only enables protection and healing for the victims but also leads to prosecution and conviction of the traffickers.”

In August 2011, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota commissioned The Mellman Group (Washington, D.C.) to conduct statewide polling which found that 90 percent of Minnesotans support a public investment to protect the state’s children from sex trafficking.

“Minnesotans want action on this issue and they expect a solution,” said Lee Roper-Baker, president and CEO, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. “Child sex trafficking is one of humanity’s gravest forms of violence. It requires a systemic response as part of a state that cares about its children. This new legislation is that systemic response. The rest of the nation is watching what Minnesota will do.”

“It’s time that we treated the sexual exploitation of our children as the public health epidemic that it is,” said Jeff Bauer, director of public policy, The Family Partnership. “The passage of this legislation reflects the deeply held Minnesota value that we protect all children like we protect our own.”

“This legislation makes good on Minnesota’s promise to provide safe harbor for all sex trafficked children,” said Michele Garnett McKenzie, advocacy director for The Advocates for Human Rights, member of the working group, and an author of No Wrong Door. “By providing the housing and services the victims of this violent and predatory crime need, Minnesota will be able to stop treating these children as criminals and set them on a path to recovery.”

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Senator Sandy Pappas
Sandy Pappas represents District 65, which includes portions of Saint Paul in Ramsey County in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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