State Senate President Sandy Pappas (DFL-65) and state Rep. Susan Allen (DFL-62B) introduced legislation this week that would dramatically improve the state’s safety net for young people victimized by sex trafficking.
Backed by supporters of the state’s Safe Harbor law, the proposed legislation calls for the creation of a new shelter and housing for sex-trafficked youth; a supportive services fund to provide therapy for the youth; a new Safe Harbor director, six regional positions and 14 youth street outreach workers; and a new training fund to educate law enforcement to be on the look out for signs of trafficking.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Safe Harbors law in 2011. It reclassified youth under the age of 16 involved in prostitution as victims instead of criminals. It also increased penalties for promoters, patrons and pimps.
The latest legislation would cost $13.5 million for the biennium, said Jeff Bauer, director of public policy for The Family Partnership, a downtown-based human services agencies that is part of the Safe Harbor coalition.
Currently there are only four shelter beds in the state for youth trafficking victims, he said.
If the legislation becomes law, Minnesota would have the most comprehensive system in place to help trafficked youth in the county, according to supporters of the legislation.
To begin to get a handle on demand, 35 to 40 new beds are needed across the state, Bauer said.
“The better we are at raising awareness, the better trained folks are to investigate and identify victims, the more beds we are going to need,” he said.
While statistics are hard to come by to give a big picture on the problem, the trafficking of children for sex is a problem on the rise across the state.
“There are two undeniable trends that we have seen the past several years: one is that there are more girls and boys and that the children are getting younger and younger,” Bauer said, noting the Family Partnership’s Pride Program sees youth as young as 11 involved in prostitution. “It really transcends any boundaries — every socioeconomic class sees this. We see children from all over the state of Minnesota.”
The Mill District-based Women’s Foundation has been a major leader in the fight against trafficking with its MN Girls Are Not For Sale campaign.
The Journal recently published an in-depth report on youth prostitution in Minneapolis called “Out of the Dark.”
(Left) State Senate President Sandy Pappas and (right) State Rep. Susan Allen