Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law protects child sex trafficking victims from criminal prosecution and allows victims to come forward and testify against perpetrators without fear of criminal reprisal.
Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law Protects Victims
Minnesota has a high rate of child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors, especially in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 2015, Minnesota’s sex trafficking rate was the third-highest in the country. Over the last decade, Minnesota law enforcement agencies and state officials have been working diligently to stop child sex trafficking and protect victims from harm and criminal prosecution.
In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a Safe Harbor Law to protect victims of child sex trafficking, with further updates to the law implemented in 2014. The Safe Harbor Law protects victims of child sex trafficking by eliminating the possibility of criminal prosecution and providing victims up to the age of 24 with safe shelter, services, and resources through programs like No Wrong Door and Your Call MN. In 2020, a statewide campaign called Your Call MN was launched to provide helpful resources for sex trafficking victims and a platform for the public to report suspected child sex trafficking.
The Minnesota Safe Harbor Law also increased the penalties for convicted sex trafficking offenders, which helped to reduce the high rate of sex trafficking crimes throughout Minnesota and protect victims by allowing them to testify against their perpetrators without fear of criminal prosecution. Because child sex trafficking victims are no longer treated as criminals under the law, they are more willing to come forward and testify against their offenders without fear of criminal prosecution.
Since the enactment of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law, sex crime attorneys and law enforcement agencies have seen the number of sex trafficking convictions double. In 2016, an offender charged with sex trafficking seven women in the Twin Cities was charged and sentenced to 58 years in prison. In another 2016 sting, the Federal Bureau of Investigation rescued hundreds of children from a sex trafficking ring operated by four alleged pimps working in the Twin Cities.
Preventing Child Sex Trafficking
Child sex traffickers are master manipulators who intentionally target vulnerable children. They look for children who are homeless, children who are neglected and/or abused, children addicted to drugs, children with mental health challenges, and single young mothers with children. The average age of a child sex trafficking victim is 13.
Approximately 40% of sex trafficking cases involve minors, under the age of 18, and at least 50% of exploited adults were first trafficked as minors. National child sex trafficking studies show that young children and teenagers who are homeless for more than 30 days are often targeted by perpetrators. Many of these children leave home because of physical abuse by relatives, drug abuse, or dysfunctional families.
A Minneapolis sex crime attorney commonly sees homeless children who become prime targets for sex traffickers, because they have no place to live and no means of financial support. Studies show that approximately 25% of homeless children are victims of sex trafficking, but actual numbers are believed to be higher since many cases go unreported.
Awareness of signs of potential child sex trafficking can help victims and save lives. Although healthcare workers are the most likely adults to come in contact with sex-trafficked children, other adults should be aware of the signs of potential child sex trafficking. Possible signs include children who exhibit the following conditions:
- Presence of a controlling older adult (male or female)
- Signs of physical or psychological trauma
- Bodily injuries in various stages of healing
- Submissive or fearful demeanor, avoiding eye contact
- No access to an ID, money, or personal possessions
- Anxiously monitoring their cell phone
Minnesota sex crime attorneys often see victims of child sex trafficking who are addicted to drugs, because traffickers intentionally get victims hooked on drugs to control them.
Trafficking Penalties and Convictions
Currently, sex traffickers convicted in Minnesota face up to 15 years in prison for adult sex trafficking; up to 20 years in prison for child sex trafficking; and up to 25 years in prison for child sex trafficking with an aggravating factor, such as causing the child physical injury.
Although Minnesota sex traffickers are routinely prosecuted, not all prosecutions end in convictions. Many Minnesota sex trafficking cases are settled through plea deals with a Minneapolis sex crime attorney providing criminal defense.
In 2014, Minnesota prosecutors made 102 charges for child sex trafficking and exploitation, but only 32 charges led to actual convictions. According to the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, legal consequences often fall on trafficking victims, including women and children of color, domestic abuse victims, and homeless youth battling drug abuse. When cases proceed to a court trial, jurors often see sex trafficking as a victimless crime, especially if victims are charged with prostitution.