Safe Harbor for Youth

Although many states and the federal government recognize the crime of human trafficking, laws continue to hold trafficking victims criminally responsible when they engage in prostitution. Despite growing recognition that trafficked persons are crime victims, trafficked adults may be charged with prostitution crimes and trafficked children under age 18 may be adjudicated as “delinquents” for engaging in prostitution. Treating trafficked persons as criminals or delinquents subjects them to punishment and detention, rather than providing services to help them recover from trafficking. 

Led by advocates including ECPAT-USA and the Polaris Project, states have begun recognizing that human trafficking victims should not be treated as criminals. By 2013, 20 states had taken some steps toward ensuring that trafficked children do not automatically face deliquency proceedings for engaging in prostitution or provide some services for trafficked youth. While many states' approaches fail to ensure that no child faces delinquency proceedings for being trafficked, these efforts represent the beginning of a new approach to protecting victims.

Beginning in 2011, The Advocates for Human Rights led Minnesota's efforts to eliminate the use of juvenile delinquency against trafficked youth and to ensure that comprehensive, victim-centered services are available statewide to meet the needs of victims.The Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act of 2011, excluded prostituted children from the definition of “delinquent child” to ensure they can not be held criminally accountable for engaging in prostitution and created a framework for a victim-centered, trauma-informed, culturally appropriate approach to meeting the needs of each individual child. That framework, known as the No Wrong Door approach, resulted from a year-long, statewide, multi-disciplinary consultative process. The Safe Harbor 2013 initiative which included all children under 18 within Safe Harbor protection and which created a statewide Safe Harbor director and regional navigators to ensure access to services for victims statewide and appropriated money for housing.  

For more information, read The Advocates for Human Rights' report Safe Harbor: Fulfilling Minnesota's Promise to Protect Sexually Exploited Youth.

Learn more about what you can do to prevent sex trafficking in Minnesota with The Advocates' Sex Trafficking and Safe Harbor Resource Pack. The packet provides accessible, consistent information about sex trafficking and the Safe Harbor law including a PowerPoint presentation, supplemental handouts, and resources for specific systems professionals.