ST. PAUL, Minn. – A state report is offering mixed reviews of the Safe Harbor initiative in Minnesota a year after its passage, including a lack of funding that has "inhibited full implementation".
The legislature approved the Safe Harbor Law in 2011, but legislators expanded it in 2013 and 2014.
The law categorizes children under 18 years old involved in sex trafficking as victims and should be treated as such. The legislation also introduced a diversion program for victims and provided more money for shelters and training, as well as increasing the penalties for traffickers and buyers of commercial sex.
"In the past, children and youth were treated as criminals instead as the victims of sex trafficking," said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman in a statement. "The Safe Harbor law has allowed youth that have been sexually exploited and trafficked to be treated as the victims they are, and provides them with the resources that promote safety, stability and hope for a better future."
The report states to date $8 million dollars has been invested in Safe Harbor per biennium. Other improvements include an increased awareness to the problem of human trafficking in the state, according to the report.
"DHS and many other agencies have partnered closely to meet the needs of sex trafficked youth in Minnesota," said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jessen in a statement. "Our role in developing shelter and supportive housing for these vulnerable youth helps them stabilize and begin to heal."
But according to the report, advocates said there are not enough resources to meet the need, specifically they said there are not enough shelters to house victims. That's something KARE 11 Investigates reported earlier this month.
"There's not enough shelter space or money for ongoing services. This population needs long-term care. This isn't a 3-month or 6-month intervention. You need a minimum of 6 months to a year of services to be effective," said an unidentified person who the authors interviewed.
The report also said about half of "key informants" questioned said there needs to be more trust built between law enforcement and service providers.
There is also a debate about whether or not locked placements are needed for youth when they are initially identified. According to the report, some believe locked placement is necessary because "youth often leave services before they are assessed and receive appropriate treatment." But others believe it would cause more harm to youth.
Other concerns included a lack of awareness about the issue and the resources available in tribal communities.
Among the recommendations: the state should seek full funding in order to adequately implement services, expand the age limit in the Safe Harbor law to 18 and older and create more housing for victims, including beds for males and LGBTQ youth.