In 2011, Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor for Youth Act, a law which increases penalties for pimps, purchasers, and other sex traffickers of minors. The law more closely aligns Minnesota state statutes with federal law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), creating structures for victimized youth to receive protective services.
The law does the following:
• Excludes sexually exploited children under 16 from the definition of delinquent child;
• Includes the definition of sexually exploited youth in Minnesota’s child protection code;
• Creates a mandatory first-time diversion for any 16 or 17 year old who has been exploited in prostitution (where the child meets the criteria);
• Allows prosecutors to continue diversion or to proceed with CHIPS petitions for children coming through the system additional times;
• Increases penalties for buyers of sex with adults, from $250 to a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $750. Forty percent of fees will go into an account to serve sexually exploited children; and
• Directs the commissioner of public safety to work with stakeholders to create a victim-centered response to sexually exploited youth.
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center performed a study analyzing the law’s impact since the beginning of its gradual implementation, using funding directing it to perform and cost-benefit analysis. The study’s focus was sexually-exploited female runaway and homeless youth ages 12 to 17.
Upon performing an academic analysis, researchers found $34 in benefit to every $1 in cost for the program.
These results imply that our state and national legislators should reconsider their priorities. When economic times are tough, we are nonetheless financially better off protecting our most vulnerable youth. Not only that, we are morally better off.