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Survey: At Least 5,000 MN Teens Report Being Sexually Exploited

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Minnesota officials say that between 2017 and 2019, nearly 1,300 teens and young adults were assisted by various groups after being victims of sexual exploitation. (stopcse.org)
Minnesota officials say that between 2017 and 2019, nearly 1,300 teens and young adults were assisted by various groups after being victims of sexual exploitation. (stopcse.org)
 By Mike Moen - Producer, Contact
January 28, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Based on findings from a recent survey, Minnesota health officials estimate at least 5,000 high-school students have been sexually exploited. But officials and researchers say the problem likely runs deeper.

A question was added to the most recent Minnesota Student Survey, a census conducted by the state health department every three years. Students in 9th and 11th grade were asked whether they had traded sexual activity for goods or shelter. Roughly 1.4% said they had.

University of Minnesota associate professor Lauren Martin helped with research on the project. She said the issue is not limited to any particular part of the state.

"Young people across the state answered yes, that they have traded sex," Martin said. "We've noted slightly higher rates in northern Minnesota, compared to the metro area."

Martin added the rate was very similar between boys and girls. And she acknowledged the overall number is probably higher because of teens who don't attend school or because respondents were too embarrassed to answer 'yes.'

Others who have researched the topic in Minnesota say the survey provides a good benchmark to build on outreach services for victims.

Julia Atella is a researcher with the Wilder Foundation, which has examined state efforts on the issue. She agreed that while the findings are critical, they really only scratch the surface.

"But I think what you don't know is why the exploitation, or how long it's been happening," Atella said; "some of those things that could give more information about what type of services are needed"

Atella said Minnesota's Safe Harbor program, which helps fund outreach services and provides legal protection for victims, has done great work in meeting the needs of sexually exploited youth. But she said there needs to be a greater focus on communities of color, and an expansion of prevention measures.

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