The Safe Harbor law defines children younger than 16 years old who have been sexually exploited as victims rather than delinquents and creates different guidelines for 16- and 17-year-old youth. Although the law was passed in 2011, there are certain provisions that will not take effect until August of this year.
Last session the Legislature provided $2.8 million in funding for some aspects of the law and it served three purposes, said Jeff Bauer, director of public policy at The Family Partnership: $1 million for housing and shelter; $1 million for staff, including a Safe Harbor director; and $800,000 for the Department of Public Safety to train law enforcement officers.
That $2.8 million was around 21 percent of the funding advocates requested last year, said Bauer. This session they are asking for an additional $2.5 million. HF2248, sponsored by Rep. Susan Allen (DFL-Mpls), would provide $1 million to house and shelter trafficked and exploited children and $1.5 million to fund grants for services such as education, health and employment. The bill also gives the director of the Safe Harbor program authority to manage the grants.
The House Health and Human Services Finance Committee laid the bill over Wednesday for possible inclusion in its omnibus bill. A companion, SF1857, sponsored by Senate President Sandy Pappas (DFL-St.Paul), awaits action by the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee.
Under the Safe Harbor law, sexually exploited children will be removed from the justice system in August and treated as children who need protection, Allen said, and those children will need to live somewhere.
Victims of trafficking need secure housing or shelter, Bauer explained, for three reasons:
- traffickers continue to seek their victims;
- victims are encouraged to recruit other youth sometimes with the threat of repercussions if they do not comply; and
- the trauma of the victims’ experiences can make it difficult to prevent them from running away.
A portion of last year’s $2.8 million allows them to fully fund at $500,000 each year about six beds at secure emergency shelters each year, Bauer said. With additional funds raised by partnering organizations, he expects to have 12 to 14 beds partially funded, which falls short of their minimum goal of 35 to 40 beds.
Victims are dealing with trauma that may take a lifetime to overcome, said Noelle Volin staff attorney and director of policy at Breaking Free, a nonprofit organization that works with sexually exploited women and teens. They need housing that will allow them to make the transition from children to productive adults, she said.
Part of the process of helping children make that successful transition are the type of culturally appropriate services they receive that will help them reintegrate into their community, said Artika Roller, director of the Pride Program at The Family Partnership. Other needed services include family counseling and chemical dependency assessments, which the funding in the bill would help cover.
Courtesy House Public Information Services