Letter to the editor: July 30, 2014


To the Editor:
The Minnesota Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Law goes into effect this August, 2014. The law recognizes that minors are victims, not criminals and excludes them from the definition of “delinquent child”. It also increases the penalties for buyers and adds the term “sexually exploited youth” to Minnesota’s child protection code.
In conjunction with the new law, the No Wrong Door Model is the proposed statewide response to help identify exploited and at risk youth, and to get them victim-centered, trauma-informed services, and safe housing.
In the United States, it is estimated that 100,000 children are sexually exploited each year, and the average age when a girl is first trafficked is just 13. The problem is pervasive with more and more predators using websites to find their next young victims.
Too many children are abused in unimaginable ways through no fault of their own. Many start using drugs and alcohol, either to help them cope, or because they are introduced to chemicals as a means of control by their abusers.
The Wright County Sheriff’s Department and Wright County Human Services respond to calls, and deal with situations involving the trafficking of teenage girls and young women on a regular basis. One involved two juvenile females who met at a treatment foster home in our county.  One girl was from the metro area and the other from out state Minnesota. One was on a probation placement, the other on a human services hold. They both had chemical use issues and, a week later, ran away together. 
Later reports revealed the girls were still together and using. Contact was attempted with both sets of parents, but only one would speak with the sergeant. The girls had been exchanging sex for drugs and housing while on the run. All known contacts were unwilling to reveal their location. One of the girls was located two weeks later by her probation agent at a known party house. She was bruised and intoxicated, and placed in a locked treatment center. The other was located in the lobby of a metro hotel, bloody and high on drugs. She was hospitalized for her condition, but would not provide a statement to the authorities.
Correcting a problem first involves recognizing there is one. The Safe Harbor Law shifts the blame from the exploited to the exploiters where it should be. There are a number of resources to help victims, with more being developed. Raising public awareness is a key component.  For information on the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force online, visit www.mn.httf.org.
Thank you,
Wright County Safe Harbor Task Force 
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