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Helping Minnesota's Sexually Exploited Youth Reclaim Their Lives

PHOTO: A dozen groups statewide are sharing in $900,000 in grant money, as Minnesota continues its efforts to recognize that children who are sexually exploited are victims and survivors, not criminals. Photo credit: Bailey Weaver/Flickr.
PHOTO: A dozen groups statewide are sharing in $900,000 in grant money, as Minnesota continues its efforts to recognize that children who are sexually exploited are victims and survivors, not criminals. Photo credit: Bailey Weaver/Flickr.
November 18, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota is taking another step in helping youths break free from sexual exploitation, and in helping them reclaim their lives.

The Minnesota Department of Health has awarded $900,000 dollars to 13 organizations across the state to help girls and boys escape from trafficking and recover from trauma. Jeff Bauer, director of public policy with The Family Partnership, says that recovery requires two key areas of support without delay.

"Those first few days are critically important to make sure they're in a safe place, and that their trafficker cannot get at them," says Bauer. "Safe, supportive shelter is a big part of that. Trauma counselors who can talk to them right away are an important part of that."

These grants are part of Minnesota's Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Law, which went into full effect in August.

In addition to the counseling and housing options, the law increases penalties for so-called "johns," while decriminalizing prostitution for those under age 18. Due to the difficulty in tracking the specific crimes, exactly how many kids in Minnesota are being sexually exploited remains unclear.

"We're seen two really undeniable trends over the past few years," says Bauer. "One is there's just more and more of these kids coming through our programs. The numbers are increasing. And the second thing that we're seeing is the kids are getting younger and younger."

Minnesota's efforts around Safe Harbor also include the training of law enforcement officers and front-line personnel so they can identify child victims of the sex trade, and aggressively prosecute traffickers.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN