Minnesota Strategic Plan Offers Hope of Prevention for Trafficking Victims


Minnesota Ahead of Other States, More Positive Changes Needed

by Ethan Klee, UV Board Member

Minnesota has made marvelous strides in the last decade for victims of sex trafficking, setting an important example for other states as well as giving pointers to our federal government. These strides seem to be turning into bounds as we move into 2019.

In 2011 the Minnesota Safe Harbor Law was passed, creating a statewide system for assisting sexually exploited youth with services to provide them with housing and services through the age of 18. Safe Harbor also established that “youth who engage in prostitution are viewed as victims and survivors, not criminals,” as defined on their website, allowing victims to be treated as humans, not future inmates. Safe Harbor also realized the right and need for youths that had fallen victim to trafficking as needing guidance from health professionals to aid them in making their own choices instead of the State or nearest living relative becoming their decision maker.

Five key changes were made to Minnesota state law as a result of Safe Harbor, three immediately when passed in 2011, and two additional changes put into effect in 2014:

From the Minnesota Department of Health website:

“In 2011 –

  • 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

  • Excluded sexually exploited youth under 18 from the definition of delinquent child. This resolves the conflict that defines in law a sexually exploited youth as both a victim and delinquent. If youth engage in conduct that relates to being hired, offering to be hired or agreeing to be hired by another individual to engage in sexual conduct, they cannot be charged with a crime for this act.

  • State began implementing service model called No Wrong Door – making available resources and services for sexually exploited youth including regional navigators, housing and shelter, comprehensive services, and training and protocol development.“

A final change was made in 2016 where the age restriction was elevated to 24 from 18 as a result from state wide study on sexual assault victim demographics.

2019 proves to be full of even more prosperous changes to Safe Harbor laws with the community report “Safe Harbor for All: Results from a Statewide Strategic Planning Process in Minnesota”, being published. “This project engaged a wide range of knowledgeable experts from across Minnesota. We listened to those most affected by sex trafficking, exploitation, and commercial sex, including communities of color, indigenous people, immigrants, and those in the LGBTQ community,” said Lauren Martin, director of research at UROC and the report's lead researcher.

Proposed in light of this is legislature to broaden Minnesota’s Safe Harbor response to sex trafficking altogether. The current focus being on youth, while an important first step and continuing effort, will be expanded to include victims of all ages. Legal remedies, training and accountability, culturally sensitive and responsive tactics and practices being involved in planning measures, and societal and institutional conditions are all to be considered a heavy mandate of the new Safe Harbor amendments.

This proposes an interesting perspective as the United States has seen a steady increase of transgender victims of sex trafficking since 2008. Transgender individuals face unique issues when framed in reference to sex and human trafficking, as in Minnesota, this is the highest demographic of runaway children, draining them of vital resources and support. The 2015 Transgender Survey Report, the most comprehensive report examining the lived experiences of transgender people in the US and its territories shows that 22,715 respondents reported 42% were currently or previously were homeless. 20% were part of the underground economy, with 41% of those having experienced physical assault during this work.

As a biproduct of this survey report, we know that trans people are 3 times more likely to be forced into the underground sex economy, as well as being physically named or attacked during a sexual encounter. In and outside of human trafficking, Trans women of color encounter the highest rates of physical and verbal violence. Out of all trans women who reported being physically assaulted (5%), the highest percentages were seen by American Indian (19%), Middle Eastern (12%), and multiracial (11%) women. This makes the call for Safe Harbor including these demographics not only more important, but a breath of fresh air after reading these statistics (which of course don’t even begin to catalogue the victims of human trafficking.

Safe Harbor is enforced by the agency “No Wrong Door”, a multi-state organization ensuring communities have the “knowledge, skills and resources to effectively identify sexually exploited and at-risk youth” according to their website, and all officials of the agency will be involved in the 2019 changes to the Safe Harbor wireframe, as well as be the first to be trained in new conditions, techniques, and legislation to help provide better care for new demographics highlighted above.

Spotting signs of sex trafficking and knowing what to do in that situation is not an easy task, but you being informed can be someone else’s saving grace.

Courtesy of the Spirit of Minnesota Monthly:

Signs of physical or sexual abuse: bruises, cuts, black eyes, burn marks

Visible anxiety or fear; lack of eye contact

An older companion who seems to be in control of a younger person

Paying for larger items in cash

Lack of control over own money, documents, or ID

Lingering at bus stops, hotel lobbies, or other public places

Inappropriate dress for the individual’s age or for the weather


Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 or send the text BeFree to 233733.humantraffickinghotline.org

If you see someone in imminent danger, call 911.

Local Minnesota Resources:

The Advocates for Human Rights:

This Minneapolis-based legal nonprofit fought to enact Minnesota’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act. 612-341-3302; theadvocatesforhumanrights.org

Breaking Free:

This nonprofit helps women escape sexual exploitation through advocacy, services, housing, and education. 651-645-6557; breakingfree.net

Casa de Esperanza:

Works to end domestic violence in the Latino community. 24-hr bilingual domestic violence helpline: 651-772-1611; casadeesperanza.org

Cornerstone Advocacy Services:

Locations in Bloomington, Minneapolis, and Brooklyn Center offer legal advocacy and support for victims of abuse and trafficking. Crisis Hotline: 952-884-0330; cornerstonemn.org

Don’t Buy It Project:

Sponsored by Duluth-based Men As Peacemakers, this outreach campaign promotes a no-tolerance policy to sexual trafficking and violence. dontbuyitproject.org

Heartland Girls Ranch:

A therapeutic program on a working horse ranch, with services for exploited/trafficked girls ages 12-21. 320-843-4815; heartlandgirlsranch.org

Life House:

Duluth-based nonprofit offers services for homeless and street youth under 25. Youth Safeline: 800-786-2929; lifehouseduluth.org

The Link:

This Twin Cities youth- and family-focused nonprofit provides anti-trafficking training for community groups and service providers. 612-232-5428; thelinkmn.org

Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault:

Leadership and resources for sexual assault programs and allies to prevent sexual violence. 651-209-9993; mncasa.org

Minnesota Day One Crisis Hotline:

Counseling and support services for sexually exploited youth. 866-223-1111; dayoneservices.org

Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force:

Governmental and non-governmental agencies working on a statewide human trafficking response. 651-201-5410; mnhttf.org

Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center:

Sexual assault advocacy services for all ages, including a program for youth ages 24 and under who have experienced sexual exploitation. 612-728-2000; miwrc.org

Mission 21:

Rochester faith-based organization provides resources for child victims of sex trafficking. 507-208-4600; mission21mn.org

St. Louis County Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault:

Crisis services and counseling to survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking. 218-726-1931; pavsa.org


Awsumb, Kate, and Patrick Stumpf. New Plan Offers Framework for Prevention of Sex Trafficking among Victims of All Ages. Minnesota Department of Health, 2019.

Carter, Vednita. “The How and Where of Sex Trafficking in Minnesota.” Minnesota Public Radio News, 24 Apr. 2013, www.mprnews.org/story/2013/04/25/daily-circuit-sex-trafficking.

Chandler, Sarah. “A Closer Look at Minnesota's Sex Trafficking Problem.” Minnesota Journeys, May 2018, www.minnesotamonthly.com/Minnesota-Life/A-Closer-Look-at-Minnesotas-Sex-Trafficking-Problem/.

“Safe Harbor Minnesota.” Safe Harbor - Minnesota Dept. of Health, 2017, www.health.state.mn.us/injury/topic/safeharbor/.