Victims: Educating on sex, healthy relationships could help stop sex trafficking

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A new survey is giving a voice to those who have been victims of sex trafficking.

The report, released Monday by Hennepin County as part of its No Wrong Door initiative to help combat sex trafficking and the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, tells the experiences of more than 70 anonymous survivors and those who worked with them.

Participants, who ranged in age from 12 to 46 years old, shared their opinions on how to prevent sexual exploitation and expressed what they needed as survivors. The hope is their voices will be taken into consideration for future policy changes and initiatives to help sexually exploited youth, the report notes.

Among the things survivors said could help prevent their exploitation and abuse is better sex education in school – including starting education earlier and addressing prostitution – as well as teaching children what it means to be in a healthy relationship.

One anonymous person was quoted in the report saying: "When I was growing up I was barely a teenager and I was hanging out with people, guys much older than me. I never had a father figure in my life. These people we would meet would be older than me and I thought it was love. Now I know it was to fill a void."

They also stressed the importance of the roles family and the community play in preventing sexual exploitation, as well as the need for safe shelters and mentoring programs for victims.

And when it comes to those behind the sex trafficking, people surveyed asked for more prosecution against them, but also encouraged access to therapy for both the people who buy sex, and those who sell victims. One respondent said:

“Maybe to reiterate in their brain the impact they had. Some people just go through life living in a cloud … Even though they know it’s wrong, it’s been somewhere taught to them that it’s okay to do or they justify it in their head. Just like I made it okay to sleep with men because I knew I needed the money. Every part of it was disgusting and I didn’t like it, but I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice.”

Read the entire 43-page report here.

Hennepin and Ramsey counties have been working to combat sex trafficking, especially in the wake of the passage of Minnesota's Safe Harbor Law.

The law went into full effect in 2014 and was used as a model for federal law to combat sex trafficking. It 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.

More than 150 minors sought help for sexual exploitation in the first full year of the program, according to the Safe Harbor First Year Evaluation Overview that was released in November.

At the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force's quarterly meeting Monday, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Assistant Ramsey County Attorney David Pinto said they want tougher sentences for people convicted in sex trafficking cases – including having those who buy sex from minors register as sex offenders, KSTP reports.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates (conservatively) that 100,000 children are exploited for prostitution every year in the U.S., the Women's Foundation of Minnesota says.

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