Although April is coined as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, many Minnesotans are voicing their opinion about the sex trafficking industry as a new bill aimed at providing care for sexually abused children makes its way in front of state legislators this week.
The bill is called the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth bill, and it asks for nearly $14 million to provide shelters, services and treatment for children who have been the victim of sexual exploitation.
Minnesota law enforcement has seen a rise in the number of girls being sold for sex, and proponents of the bill said it is because the girls lack a safe place to turn to.
“They try to reach these girls only to have them disappear because there is no place they can bring them that’s safe right now,” said Lee Roper-Baker, CEO of The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.
Roper-Baker said there are currently only four shelter beds across the state that provides services for victims of child sex trafficking, and the funding would help establish more clinics that could reach a greater amount victims.
“We are poised to become the first state in the nation to set up systemic shelter and treatment for girls who’ve been sex trafficked,” said Roper-Baker.
In addition to asking the public to contact their state legislatures to voice their opinion on the bill, there is also a radio campaign called “MN Girls Are Not For Sale”. The commercials air on select radio stations through April 1, and they detail the struggles these children face on a daily basis.
Jeff Bauer of The Family Partnership said the radio commercials are having the intended effects.
“The commercials are hard hitting,” Bauer said. “They’re pretty direct.”
Bauer also said the bill would help by putting the perpetrators behind bars.
“It’s $13.5 million for a safe shelter and housing, for comprehensive services and treatment and for training for law enforcement to better identify victims and investigate cases,” he said. “We need people in every community across the state to stand up right now to end this thing.”
Roper-Baker echoed that sentiment, saying now is the time for Minnesotans to stand up for sexually exploited children.
“This is an unimaginable crime of violence against our children and we have a chance now to be part of this solution to end it,” she said.
Related source: CBS Minnesota