Efforts to enhance Minnesota’s system for fighting juvenile sex trafficking in communities across Minnesota were the focus of a two-day conference at the Arrowhead Resort in Alexandria, MN on April 24-25, which local Blue Earth County Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg participated in. Presented by the Association of Minnesota Counties and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the primary goal of the Safe Harbor Kickoff Conference was to facilitate each community building its own multi-disciplinary team and approach to combating human trafficking.
"Counties have a critical role to play in connecting victims to services," said Blue Earth County Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg. "Children who have been victims of trafficking regularly interact with law enforcement, child protection, corrections, schools, medical facilities, social services agencies and others, but they are often overlooked or misidentified."
Funded in part by a state legislative appropriation to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the Conference expanded participants’ understanding of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law for Sexually Exploited Youth. The law, which goes into effect on August 1, 2014, creates a “No Wrong Door” system that provides sanctuary and healing for victims, as well as accountability for traffickers and purchasers of sex.
“Sex trafficking thrives in every community in Minnesota – everywhere there are vulnerable children who are not identified, helped and protected – as well as where there are men to drive the demand side of the commercial sex trade,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “The more we shine the light of awareness though education, partnership and action the less this practice of selling our children is able to thrive.”
The Conference featured background information on sex trafficking as well as Minnesota’s response. Participants had the opportunity to meet in breakout sessions by discipline – child protection, public health, corrections, law enforcement, and others – as well as by their region of the state. These breakout sessions will set the stage for a series of regional conferences and trainings which will follow in the coming year.
“This collaboration is an important part of the solution to end these awful crimes, bring perpetrators to justice, and help victims escape from their horrible situations,” said Congressman Erik Paulsen. “The Safe Harbor Kickoff Conference brings together law enforcement, prosecutors, advocacy groups, and others to discuss what methods are working and what still needs to be done—conversations that will aid our efforts to pass important bipartisan legislation. By developing an integrated strategy to combat this problem, we can protect our vulnerable youth from the horrors of sex trafficking.”
“The ultimate goal of this event is to bring together advocates and law enforcement representatives from across the state to develop practical solutions,” said Andrew Luger, U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. “The fight against human trafficking is a high priority for my office and we look forward to discussing creative, multi-disciplinary responses with our partners who will be in attendance.”
In addition to Choi, Paulsen, and Lugar, conference speakers included international journalist Stella Dawson of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Lee Roper-Batker of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, as well as representatives from Breaking Free, the Duluth Trafficking Task Force, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA), The Advocates for Human Rights, The Link, Men as Peacemakers, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments, among other organizations.
“This conference is the culmination of years of progress toward a holistic, statewide response to the trafficking of girls and young women in our state,” said Breaking Free Founder and Executive Director Vednita Carter. “Traffickers think nothing of crossing jurisdictional boundaries when they sell our children. Now we have a real opportunity to create a true statewide response to this scourge.”