Ten young women – including one who isn't even 18 years old – were rescued from sex trafficking this week in what authorities say was a two-day undercover operation.
The sting used undercover agents and investigators to find suspects who believed they were meeting young girls (13-15 years old) for sex, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a news release. Agents also went after people using social media to find girls for sex.
After the two-day operation, 15 men were arrested for trying to solicit a child for sex. Another two men, plus two women, were arrested for human trafficking. All are from the greater Twin Cities area and were booked into Anoka County Jail. They're expected to be charged in the coming days, the BCA says.
The women who were being prostituted won't face any charges.
'They will be treated with dignity and respect'
Just a few years ago, young men or women who were sold for sex would have been arrested and prosecuted, then slapped with the requisite punishment. If they were under 18, they would have been given the "delinquent child" label.
In 2011 the state made a major shift in how it approached and treated sex trafficking victims, when lawmakers passed the Safe Harbor act.
The essence of the law was to view young people who engaged in prostitution "as victims and survivors, not criminals."
"They will be treated with dignity and respect, and directed to supportive services, and shelter and housing that meet their needs and recognize their right to make their own choices," the state explains.
It went into effect in 2014 for victims under the age of 18. The policy was soon expanded to anyone 24 years old or younger. They're then given assistance through various services across the state.
The nine women in this week's trafficking sting were all interviewed and released. The juvenile was placed into protective custody.
The BCA says while this operation is over, the investigations continue. The Fridley and Plymouth police departments, as well as the Anoka and Dakota sheriff's offices, were also involved in the operation.
More about sex trafficking
A report by the independent Wilder Research Group found that one year after the Safe Harbor Act became law, more than 150 minors had sought help for sexual exploitation under Minnesota's Safe Harbor act. Almost all were female.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama signed a trafficking victims bill into law with a provision modeled after Minnesota's Safe Harbor policy. That provision was pushed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Erik Paulsen, both members of Minnesota's congressional delegation.
If you, or someone you know, is being trafficked or sexually exploited, you can call the Day One Hotline at 1-866-223-1111 to learn about services in your area, the Minnesota Department of Health says. You can also reach out to one of the regional representatives.