Inspired by local high schoolers with support of a Vikings legend, Pryor and Cwodzinski introduce sexual exploitation prevention bill

ST. PAUL – Ahead of the Super Bowl in Minneapolis this coming Sunday, legislators announced plans for bipartisan legislation to prevent sex trafficking in Minnesota. The bill, co-authored by Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL – Minnetonka) and Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL – Eden Prairie), enhances current child sexual abuse prevention curriculum in public schools to include sexual exploitation prevention.

Legislators were approached with the idea of the legislation by Jessica Melnik, a junior from Hopkins High School and Founder of Girls United MN, after she and her friends observed one of their classmates being trafficked. She also worked closely with Beth Holger-Ambrose, Executive Director of The Link, to find a way to address the crisis of sex trafficking in our schools.

“Jessica and her Girls United colleagues have worked tirelessly to bring legislators together and move this initiative forward, and with all the attention the Twin Cities area is receiving with the Super Bowl, the efforts are quite timely,” said Rep. Pryor, a bill co-author. “As we continue to increase resources for sexual exploitation victims, educating young people about this is another strong component of our work to eliminate it entirely.”

“We have a responsibility to educate young people about the growing problem of sexual exploitation, and this bill does a great job addressing that need,” said. Sen. Cwodzinski. “There is a great deal of other work to do, like reducing demand in the first place, but this effort is an excellent step in the right direction to protect our youth.”

In recent years, law enforcement agencies, have placed an increased focus on sex trafficking in cities where the Super Bowl and other public events occur. Research has shown that cities hosting such events see a temporary spike in such activity, including the number of online advertisements for sex.

The Link was founded in 1991 by Minnesota Vikings greats Jim Marshall and Oscar Reed. It provides, among other programs, housing and supportive services for youth who have been sexually exploited. The Link supports nearly 3,000 youth and young families each year. In advance of the Super Bowl, Marshall lent his voice in support of the Girls United effort.

“It’s important to protect youth in our communities and give them the tools they need to develop into strong, resilient adults,” said Marshall, a member of the Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters” defensive line. “The education provided for in this legislation is one such tool. Sexual exploitation is a growing pitfall for our youth and I’m extremely proud of Ms. Melnik and her peers for showing the initiative to propose quality solutions.”

The bill will be officially introduced when the legislative session convenes on February 20.

On Thursday, February 15, Girls United MN is hosting an event titled “Not for Sale: Standing Up to Sex Trafficking.” The workshop, to be held at the Eisenhower Community Center Theater in Hopkins at 6:30 p.m., will feature a panel of representatives from local organizations and law enforcement agencies discussing how they are combating sex trafficking.

Steve Cwodzinski represents District 49 in the southwest Twin Cities metro.

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