DPS panel calls for $13-million plan to treat sex trafficking victimsby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Department of Public Safety released a report Tuesday outlining a state task force's vision for treating and sheltering youth victims of sex trafficking.
Lawmakers mandated the report when they passed the so-called Safe Harbor Act three years ago. The law requires authorities to treat sexually exploited children as kids in need of help, not as delinquents.
That means the state must decide where to put prostituted children who may come into contact with police, said Jeff Bauer of the advocacy group The Family Partnership.
"A law enforcement officer finds a child who has been trafficked. It's 2 in the morning," Bauer said. "Maybe previously that child would have been brought to juvenile detention or some type of facility like that. When this law goes into effect, in 2014, that will no longer be the case."
The panel of prosecutors, police, advocates and others is recommending a $13 million plan that would be paid mostly with state money, but also with federal and private dollars.
Most of the money -- $8.5 million -- would go toward housing.
"You can't just take these kids and throw them into the general population of a homeless and runaway youth shelter or something like that," Bauer said. "They need a higher level of security. They need a higher level of therapeutic service."
There are just a handful of beds in the state specifically dedicated to sexually exploited youth, far short of the 35 that the task force estimates will be needed on any given night when the law goes into effect next year, he said.
Advocates are expected to ask the Legislature for about $10 million to help build the system. The plan also calls for staffing -- including a new statewide director position -- as well as training for law enforcement and culturally specific services for trafficked children.