Our view: Support falls short for sex-trafficked kidsTwo years ago Minnesota became a national leader by adopting a more-enlightened view of prostitution and human trafficking.
Two years ago Minnesota became a national leader by adopting a more-enlightened view of prostitution and human trafficking. A decision was made to start seeing the women and children out there soliciting — or being solicited — not as lawbreakers or wrongdoers but as the victims they truly are.
Lawmakers passed the Safe Harbors for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, and Minnesota became just the fifth state in the country to define exploited, sex-trafficked children as victims of crime in need of support and services rather than as criminals in need of arrest and detention.
The law is set to go into effect in 2014, meaning it was on this year’s Legislature to provide funding for counseling, shelters and other help for children rescued from cheap hotel rooms, shabby apartments and elsewhere. It was on this year’s Legislature to assure the support the 2011 Legislature so rightly chose to provide.
But not even a spend-happy, pay-for-everything, DFL-led session could deliver the money. Only $2.8 million was approved of the $13.5 million identified as necessary for 40 beds of shelter housing in as many as six communities, including in Duluth; for therapy and culturally specific counseling for sex-trafficked children; to hire a state director, six regional heads and 14 youth street outreach workers; and to train law enforcement and others on the front line of this shameful organized criminal activity.
As the Star Tribune Opinion page reported Monday, the $2.8 million will be enough to hire what is believed to be the nation’s first statewide director of child sex-trafficking prevention as well as six regional coordinator positions. The allocation also will pay for up to 12 beds of safe shelter and treatment. Only four such beds exist now.
State funding for officer training to identify and help sex-trafficking victims also was approved by the Legislature this year as part of the public-safety bill, Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, told the News Tribune Opinion page Monday.
Though he was a sponsor of a bill to provide the full $13.5 million, Lourey said the $2.8 million allocated can be seen as a good start. Look for the Legislature to provide more funding in coming years, he vowed.
“It’s by and large a success story,” he said. “No, (advocates for the young victims of sex trafficking in Minnesota) didn’t get everything they asked for. But nobody ever does. That’s too much to expect.
“We gave it a lot of attention. We gave it a lot of work,” he continued. “You want to make sure that these start-up operations are able to use all the money effectively. We’ve overfunded start-ups in the past.”
With respect to the senator, $2.8 million — only about 20 percent of what was determined to be necessary — wasn’t a good start. It was barely a start at all.
The funding amount was based on 18 months of studying and strategizing and on a 30-page report by two state departments — public safety and health and human services — that worked cooperatively and effectively together and that worked thoroughly through details. In addition, statewide polling showed overwhelming public support for full funding. And researchers from the University of Minnesota and University of Indiana determined $34 in tax savings for every $1 invested.
Two years ago, Minnesota took a leadership role to protect children and to save them from becoming victimized by traffickers and others who’d do them harm. This year Minnesota all but abandoned them. When the new law goes into effect in less than seven months, what is going to happen? When people come forward to say they’re victims, will they be helped? What about victims rescued by law enforcement? What resources will be there for them?
Will 80 percent of them end up back out on the streets?