What Is Sexual Exploitation?
Sexual exploitation of youth in Minnesota is commonly overlooked, misidentified as something else, and/or undocumented. Sexually exploited youth are those under age 18 who engaged, agreed to engage, or were forced into any type of sexual activity in return for anything of value – or a promise of anything of value – such as money, drugs, food, shelter, rent, or higher status in a gang or group. A third party may or may not be involved. A youth also can be sexually exploited if he or she has engaged in exotic dancing, been filmed doing sexual acts, traded sex for drugs, or has been found guilty of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related crimes.
Not only does sexual exploitation lead to immediate and long-term physical, mental, and emotional harm, but until recently Minnesota could charge and treat sexually exploited youth as criminals – as juvenile delinquents engaging in acts of prostitution.
Because of the efforts of MNCASA in collaboration with many dedicated nonprofit and government agencies (Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, Minnesota Department of Health, The Family Partnership, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, among others), Minnesota youth who engage in sexual acts for anything of value or a promise of something of value today are viewed as victims and survivors, not criminals. They will be treated with dignity and respect, and directed to supportive services, shelter, and housing that meet their needs and recognize their right to make their own choices.
The Safe Harbor Law was first passed in 2011 and includes five key changes – three were effective in 2011 and two more changes became effective in 2014. Through the Safe Harbor Law, Minnesota:
- Added the definition of sexually exploited youth in Minnesota’s child protection codes;
- Increased the penalties against commercial sex abusers or purchasers; and
- Directed the Commissioner of Public Safety to work with stakeholders to create a victim-centered, statewide response for sexually exploited youth.
- In 2014, prostitution was decriminalized for youth under the age of 18; and
- Funding was granted to DHS, DPS and MDH for Safe Harbor housing and supportive services, as well as training for law enforcement and other stakeholders.
MNCASA’s role in Minnesota Safe Harbor endeavors includes:
- Leadership in statewide Safe Harbor initiatives and legislation.
- Developing and sharing Safe Harbor Protocol Guidelines.
- Providing support and technical assistance to Safe Harbor service providers.
- Providing grants, support, and training through Minnesota Department of Health funding to five Pilot Safe Harbor Protocol Teams, developing responses to sexually exploited youth that are unique and appropriate to each team’s region.
The Safe Harbor Protocol Guidelines were developed by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, in partnership with SVJI, and are the result of the work of more than 200 professionals from a variety of disciplines. Funding was provided through a State of Minnesota legislative appropriation.