ST. PAUL, Minn. (Nov. 8, 2016) — Minnesota will soon be better equipped to fight the growing public health problem of labor trafficking thanks to a $2.87 million grant the Minnesota Department of Health received this month from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs.
MDH will use the grant to expand the state’s existing Safe Harbor program — which helps children and youth who are victims of sex trafficking — to include victims of labor trafficking. The grant will also support tribes and other state agencies as they work with MDH to create and implement a plan for identifying and serving all trafficked children and youth up to age 24.
State law defines labor trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, enticement, provision, obtaining or receipt of a person by any means, for the purpose of debt bondage or forced labor or services; slavery or practices similar to slavery; or the removal of organs through the use of coercion or intimidation. Labor trafficking is a felony in Minnesota, punishable by up to 40 years imprisonment and fines as high as $40,000.
“Traffickers count on victims to remain silent and not seek help,” said MDH Safe Harbor Director Lauren Ryan. “We are excited to win this grant because it will help us expand Safe Harbor services, making it easier for victims to get help and harder for traffickers to commit this crime.”
Trafficking of children and youth is a major public health and public safety problem in Minnesota and other states, although the crime’s clandestine nature and the inability or reluctance of victims to come forward makes it difficult to know the full extent of the problem. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported that more than 50 people were identified as labor trafficking victims in 2011.
Victims work in a range of industries including construction, food service, hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing and domestic cleaning. Traffickers use a variety of means to control their victims, including physical assaults, threats of harm, shaming, threats of deportation, economic abuse and intimidation.
About $800,000 of the grant will focus on labor trafficking and another approximately $800,000 will focus on supporting tribal efforts to reduce trafficking. Safe Harbor will use the remaining funds to further its current work of serving sexually exploited youth.
The 2014 legislation that created Minnesota’s Safe Harbor program sought to ensure that people under 24 who are sexually exploited or at risk of exploitation are treated as victims. The legislation also increased the penalties for buyers (Johns), and created a statewide system for helping exploited youth. Minnesota now has ten Safe Harbor regional navigators to help sexually exploited youth. From July 2015 to December 2015, Safe Harbor grantees served about 360 youths.
More details about Safe Harbor can be found on the MDH website at Safe Harbor.