A first-year evaluation (conducted by Wilder Research) of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Program praises its efforts in raising awareness and understanding of sexual exploitation among young men and women. Safe Harbor, started in 2014, is a statewide system that assists sexually exploited youths younger than 18 years of age. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman explains that in the past, children and youth were treated as criminals instead of as the victims of sex trafficking. She further explains that the Safe Harbor Law allows youth who have been sexually trafficked and exploited to be treated as the victims they are and provides them with the resources necessary for a brighter future.
The state of Minnesota has eight Safe Harbor regional navigators that aid victims of sex trafficking. They work with community organizations to create transitional, permanent, and emergency housing that address their unique needs. Lucinda Jessen, Human Services Commissioner, said that the Department of Human Services is one of many agencies that helps provide supportive housing for vulnerable youth. This allows them to stabilize and begin the healing process. Between April 2014 and April 2015, the regional navigators helped provide 74 youths with housing and shelter services. In addition, 163 youths were provided with other services, and 121 youths were provided services referrals.
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Of all the youths that Safe Harbor assisted, 97 percent of them were women and 60 percent lived in the Twin Cities. Roughly half the teens lived with a parent or guardian and were enrolled in school. Also, nearly two-thirds have a history of depression or PTSD (63 percent), drug use (58 percent), and a history of running away (69 percent). Across the state, 56 percent of the youths were trafficked, 20 percent posed for photos/pornography, and 41 percent were involved in survival sex.
Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health wants everyone who works with teens to become aware of the program, as there are more many youths who still need help. To ensure this happens, the annual report suggested 11 recommendations that include expanding the age limit of the Safe Harbor law, 24 hour services, and more housing and transportation. In 2015, the Minnesota Legislature increased funding for Safe Harbor to $8.3 million, which is shared biennium with DPS, DHS, and MDH.
Luis Gay is a sophomore attending the University of San Francisco, pursuing a Biology degree and Biochemistry Minor. He is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.
17Nov2015. “Minnesota releases first youth sexual exploitation report and recommendations to improve services”. Minnesota Department of Health”. [Accessed 19 Dec 2015]