Sex Trafficking: Connecting State and Federal Policy

February 13, 2018


As Minnesota prepared to host the Super Bowl, increased attention was given to the issue of sex trafficking. In a Civios podcast, Lauren Martin, director of research at the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) and affiliate faculty member of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, addressed the way that Minnesota state policy and research impacts federal policy related to sex trafficking and commercial sex.

Excerpts from the interview follow.  Listen to the full three part podcast on Civios.


Kate Connors-Civios:

As you’ve taken on this really, really important work and your team has been a part of this, can you talk a little bit about how you’ve found the state’s [Minnesota] approach to the issue has also evolved.

Lauren Martin:

In 2011 the state of Minnesota passed Safe Harbor for Youth which was really premised on a very different understanding of youth involved in commercial sex than our previous framework.  You know back before that passed, youth were subjected to criminal consequences for engagement in commercial sex.  They could be arrested, often were arrested.  They were, commercial sex had delinquency attached to it.  It was really viewed in a criminal justice realm.  What happened with Safe Harbor for Youth, Minnesota moved it out of a criminal justice realm and into more of a public health arena.  So Safe Harbor for Youth is actually administered by the Minnesota Department of Health and it changed how law enforcement interacts with young people.  So, instead of going to arrest young people, instead being there to help support young people and maybe help them connect to services and supports.  In 2011, when Safe Harbor for Youth was passed, they put a sunrise clause on it so that it wouldn’t come into effect until 2014.  And the reason they did that was because even as bad as the criminal justice focus was for young people, often times that was the only way young people would get the help they need would be to get arrested, put into juvenile detention and then referred to services.  Many people were concerned that if we just pulled the rug out from under them, how was our state going to identify and support young people involved in commercial sex.  So, long story short, they took that three years to develop the No Wrong Door model which essentially creates a statewide network of regional navigators to really find youth wherever they are.  There is no Wrong Door for a young person to access services and support.  So it involves multi-system players, training law enforcement.

So we’ve seen a huge shift in the state of Minnesota related to how young people involved in commercial sex are viewed.  Just to sum it up, they used to be viewed as bad kids or delinquents and now we’re really seeing them as victims of commercial sexual exploitation.  I think the state is doing tremendous work in that area.  I think we have a lot further to go and I think everyone involved in this work would agree.  Young people are, there is so much more to them than this one issue.  You know they are strong, resilient, and thoughtful amazing young people.  And sometimes from a developmental perspective, viewing yourself only as a victim doesn’t necessarily help you grow and learn and come into the fullness of who you are as a human.  So, while I think we need to recognize that young people need services and supports at the same time we need to think about what are the strengths and assets in their own lives, the families and their communities that we can build on.  But some really great work is happening.  As I go around the country and see what other states are doing, I’m really impressed with Minnesota and our approach, that we have actually put state dollars into this No Wrong Door system.  Just the level of interest and support in getting on board with this big shift has been tremendous.  I never would have thought when I started this work that we would be where we are now this fast.

Kate Connors-Civios:

So, you’ve already talked about how Minnesota’s approach to this issue has evolved over time, can you now talk a little bit about what the federal policy implications of this research are?

Lauren Martin:

As I mentioned earlier, we have a federal definition of sex trafficking that is in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. That was first passed in 2000 and has been reauthorized every year, you know many times up until now and then many states have their own sex trafficking laws and many states have Safe Harbor laws.  The market place is not delimited by an arbitrary geography of the state border or a city limit.  So we know that sex trafficking travels in circuits, some of them move nationwide through different legal environments.  So whatever any one state does has an important impact on the larger nation.  And I think when we look at some of the federal laws that have been passed, some of our Senators have used Minnesota’s model to argue for changes to federal law.  So, I think the work we do in Minnesota is impactful in terms of being an example for another way of doing things.  We’re one of the few states to put money, state dollars, into a system related to youth.  So, I think that other states are looking to see what our outcomes have been in Minnesota.  Because it is still very new.  We’re still parsing out what impact our model has really had.


Access the full podcast at Civios.