More than 150 minors sought help for sexual exploitation in the first full year of Minnesota's Safe Harbor Program, according to the Safe Harbor First Year Evaluation Overview released Tuesday.
The state's Safe Harbor law – which went into full effect in 2014 and was used as a model for federal law to combat sex trafficking – aims to ensure that minors who are sold for sex aren't viewed as delinquents, but are treated as victims and given assistance through various services across the state.
"There's this myth that trafficking happens in other countries or to youth from other countries who are brought into the United States," Laura Schauben, one of the authors of the evaluation, told MPR News. "And I think this data makes clear that ... this is happening to our youth, in our schools and in our neighborhoods across the state."
Findings from the evaluation
The evaluation of the first year of the program was done independently and published by Wilder Research, and paints a picture of the victims of sexual exploitation who have sought help through state-funded programs.
From April 2014 to April 2015, 163 minors – ranging in age from 9-17 years old – received services through the Safe Harbor Program, including 74 youths who received housing and 121 who received services.
Here's a look at who these victims are:
- Mostly female: 97 percent of those served were female: All people served in the metro were female, while four boys sought help in greater Minnesota.
- Where they live: 60 percent of victims served lived in the Twin Cities. Those in the metro area were slightly older, with the average age being just under 16 years old, than those in greater Minnesota where the average age was just over 15 years old.
- Race: 45 percent of victims identified as black, 39 percent as white and 25 percent as other. In the Twin Cities area, 82 percent of victims identified as black, while the majority of victims (55 percent) in greater Minnesota identified as white.
- Common risk factors: 69 percent of victims had a history of running away from home, 59 percent had a history of drug use, 63 percent have a history of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder and 28 percent had been in foster care.
- What they were victim of: 65 percent of victims were identified by a professional as "sexually exploited," with more people in the metro (81 percent) being victims of sexual exploitation than those in greater Minnesota (57 percent). The report found that 56 percent were trafficked, 41 percent were involved in "survival sex" and 20 percent posed for nude photos, pornography or videos.
The evaluation also made 11 recommendations for improvements to the program, including:
- Increasing funding for the program (more than $8 million has been invested into the program per biennium).
- Expanding the age limit of the law to include those 18 years and older (18 percent of those who sought services were deemed ineligible, with the main reason being they were too old).
- And providing more transportation and housing services for victims, especially in greater Minnesota.