The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 7, 2013

Our View: Child sex trafficking must be addressed

The Free Press

— A local prostitution case in the news recently no doubt opened a few eyes about the fact that sex trafficking can and does happen here.

A brother and sister from Milwaukee were charged with forcing a woman to work as a prostitute in Mankato hotels. Mankato police verify this is not an isolated incident and say that such cases are happening more regularly.

And when it comes to children involved in sex trafficking, the Twin Cities is ranked among the top 13 largest centers in the country for child sex trafficking enterprises. In a prostitution sting in 2010, a woman who was arrested in Mankato had turned 18 two months before the sting.

Although we have a high number of sex trafficking cases in Minnesota, state leaders are trying to do something about it. In 2011 the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton and is to go into effect in 2014.

That legislation lead to recommendations and proposed expenditures to combat the problem, including shelter and housing for the youth; a fund to provide therapeutic services; training for law enforcement to recognize victims in the trade; and creation of a Safe Harbor director and outreach positions.

The proposed solution, which would be funded by implementation legislation introduced in this year’s session, isn’t cheap with a price tag of $13.5 million. But just like the spending of early childhood education money, the benefits save money in the long run. A 2012 cost-benefit study shows a savings of $34 for every $1 invested in such models as Safe Harbor No Wrong Door.

Area lawmakers, including Rep. Tony Cornish and Sens. Kathy Sheran and Julie Rosen, have signed on in support of the implementation legislation.

With demands on funding for health and human services needs, fully funding the request may become an issue at the Capitol. At the very least, an effort needs to be made to connect sex-trafficking victims to existing shelter space, alternative shelter space and social services care, even if newly constructed shelter space may be years down the road.

Education of law enforcement authorities as well as potential victims also needs to be a priority. Children as young as age 13 have reportedly been victims of sex trafficking. Just as children are taught about the dangers of drug use and safe driving, they must be taught about sex trafficking. The organization Minnesota Girls are Not for Sale cites a 2010 study that determined that each month 213 Minnesota girls are sold for sex an average of five times per day through the Internet and escort services.

The problem is already here, and children need to be protected now.