A survey of 9th and 11th graders has revealed a shocking finding that thousands of Minnesota teenagers are being sexually exploited.
The Minnesota Department of Health added a new question to its 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, asking the high school students whether they had ever traded sex for something of value – namely money, food, drugs, alcohol, a place to stay, or something else of value.
Some 1.4 percent of respondents said they had, which University of Minnesota researchers estimate equates to approximately 5,000 teens in the state being exploited for sex.
The study also found that boys and girls are "almost evenly impacted."
In a statement, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm called the study's results "alarming."
"We must do more to connect with youth through our Safe Harbor program, educational programs and other efforts providing them with financial security and safe homes," she said of the exploited students.
Furthermore, Lauren Martin, a U of M associate professor and researcher on the project, said that the 5,000 figure may be an "underestimate" because some of the other students affected may have been reluctant to answer "yes" to the question.
It also didn't include students who were not at school on the day of the survey, with teens who miss school more likely to face sexual exploitation.
Those more likely to be involved in trading sex are children in juvenile correctional facilities, foster care and unstable housing, with the study finding students of all races and gender identities reporting exploitation.
"If we can identify these young people in school who are at risk of trading sex, caring adults such as school nurses, social workers and teachers can intervene and help with services and support so that they can get out of that risky situation,” said Barbara McMorris, associate professor at the University of Minnesota.
MDH notes that the state's Safe Harbor program, designed to identify and assist sex-trafficked and exploited people up to the age of 24, has served almost 1,300 individuals between April 2017 and March 2019.