Safe Harbor bill protects youth from being victimized twice


No Wrong Door gives sexually exploited children support, not punishment





News Analysis

By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, signed the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act into law in 2011; it will take effect in 2014. This bill officially identifies and treats trafficked children and adolescents as crime victims, not criminals. Legislation to amend the bill, utilizing the “No Wrong Door” model, is now before lawmakers to put teeth in the original edict.

The Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, according to a press release issued by the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, the Family Partnership, and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, “charged the state departments of Public Safety, Human Services and Health with the task of convening diverse experts, including law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, public defenders, service providers, advocates, survivors of sex trafficking and others to create a comprehensive prevention and intervention model to successfully implement the Safe Harbor Act.” After a year and a half of convening, diverse experts put No Wrong Door before the legislature this past January.

There are, in all of Minnesota, only four beds to shelter sexually trafficked girls and none for sexually trafficked boys — a tragic reality No Wrong Door is being advanced to address. The $13.5 million plan is to provide victimized youth with housing, therapy and other support services to help them get out of and stay out of prostitution.

As a rule, Democrats and Republicans refuse to agree on the time of day, much less important legislation. There is indication, however, that this bill will avoid being bogged down at the State Capitol in petty, bi-partisan feuding-as-usual, both sides of the aisle setting differences aside to put their shoulders in common to the proverbial wheel.

Women’s Foundation of Minnesota Vice President Terry Williams attests, “It has been before multiple committees in the House and the Senate and has passed the committees with unanimous support.” Williams is, she says, “optimistic that it will [become law]. Governor Dayton has said that if it reaches his desk, he will sign it.”

Which means that, in the foreseeable future, the most vulnerable among us, who are served up to satisfy sick appetites, can come off the menu. A vital aspect, as Williams points out, is that part of the funding will go to educate law enforcement and change the prevailing attitude.

It is one thing to judge adults who are in the life, even though it’s common knowledge that hookers routinely are forced into prostitution by drug addiction, homelessness, abuse and other pressures. It is altogether something else, because prostitution is illegal, to throw the proverbial book at kids who, common sense dictates, did not sit down and come up with the idea that debasing themselves and putting their lives at risk is a promising, productive career choice.

When police become inclined to look on underage prostitutes as people who desperately need to be protected and served, underage prostitutes will be more inclined to see cops as a way to get help rather than just authorities looking to lock them up in jail. “[The bill] includes training for law enforcement and other professionals… We know that in the metro area, law enforcement are treating [them] as victims, but across the state there are still police departments that are criminalizing them.”

As well, district attorneys and police departments have already devised the means to trace the histories of child prostitutes back to their pimps and madams. You put them out of action, you solve a great deal of them problem.

Children and adolescents trapped in the business of renting out their bodies are hardly a closed book even once they are rescued. There is trauma. Routinely, there is chemical dependency (CD).

No Wrong Door is designed to do something about what shape these young people are in when they show up at the door emotional, mental, and perhaps physical wrecks. The purpose is to treat, Terry Williams says, “trauma, CD, counseling for anything that these kids need as they’re trying to heal from the crime that’s been committed against them.”

Nothing could be more to the point. Youngsters, under the best conditions, are trying to make sense of the world. Those forced into the sex trade suffer under considerably less than the best conditions.

The Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs offers copies of the 30-page book No Wrong Door: A Comprehensive Approach to Safe Harbor for Minnesota’s Sexually Exploited Youth. It is an exhaustive work documenting a thorough, quite practical, hands-on means of salvaging our youth.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.