MINNEAPOLIS (March 25, 2014) — Hennepin County is stepping up its efforts to protect children caught up in sex trafficking and end their exploitation.
The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved a work plan to build a seamless response in order to identify, protect and heal sexually exploited youth; to prosecute traffickers, pimps and purchasers; and to prevent sexual exploitation of youth.
This action is a response to Minnesota’s Safe Harbor legislation which made clear that children involved in prostitution should not be treated like criminals but rather as sexual abuse victims. And it is in alignment with the state’s No Wrong Door model.
Commercial sexual exploitation of youth is a significant problem. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 100,000 children are exploited each year for prostitution in the United States. In 2008, the FBI’s Crimes Against Children Unit highlighted Minneapolis as second among the nation’s top 13 high intensity child prostitution areas.
Hennepin’s No Wrong Door Plan represents a year of work by 40 staff members to better coordinate the response across county departments. Areas involved include public health, hospitals and clinics, children’s mental health, homelessness and housing, child welfare and child protection, law enforcement and juvenile corrections, prosecution and public defender.
Personnel in each of these departments previously have come into contact with trafficked youth but sometimes lacked the training to identify and most appropriately respond to the needs presented. Older modes of thinking about this problem too often pit one area against another, but that is now changing.
This initiative was begun under the leadership of former Commissioner Gail Dorfman.
“This is our plan to ensure that sexually exploited youth who enter our doors will receive the help and services they need,” Dorfman said. “It is our promise that we will not send them back to those who manipulate, use, and abuse them. It is our pledge that perpetrators and purchasers will be held accountable.”
Following today’s adoption by the county board, this project will be guided by Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison as chair of the Sexually Exploited Youth Work Group, which consists of key staff assigned to this effort by County Administrator David Hough, County Attorney Mike Freeman and County Sheriff Rich Stanek.
Work is already underway to collaborate with municipal partners such as the City of Minneapolis and community partners such as The Link, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.
“This represents a significant step forward,” Callison said. “I am excited to work with so many great county staff and our partners in the community and the State of Minnesota to protect our children from the scourge of sex trafficking.
The No Wrong Door report is available to reporters upon request. Please contact [email protected]