UNDATED — A growing grassroots movement aims to keep people who have been forced into prostitution and sex trafficking from being criminally charged, and enforce harsh penalties for those who exploit them.
The Safe Harbor 4 All coalition launched an information and resources website, along with a Facebook page, at the end of April. The effort is led by the Safe Harbor 4 All Implementation Task Force, made up of survivors of sexual exploitation, advocacy program workers and other community members from the St. Cloud area and other places in Minnesota.
The Safe Harbor model is one of partial decriminalization; the policy aims to prosecute buyers, exploiters, and traffickers – not those who have been forced into sex trafficking or prostitution.
“This model recognizes that sexual exploitation and prostitution is intrinsically harmful and violent,” said Rebecca Kotz, Trafficking Program Coordinator for the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center.
Kotz says currently, Minnesota law upholds full criminalization, in which both traffickers/buyers and those being prostituted or trafficked are charged and prosecuted.
“So, right now, all people involved in prostitution are criminalized,” Kotz explained. “That means, those who are being sexually exploited or trafficked can be charged with prostitution, when in reality they are survivors of exploitation and trafficking.”
Minnesota does have a Safe Harbor Law, passed in 2011, but it only applies to minors. The law treats exploited youth not as criminals, but as victims of sexual violence, and also increases penalties for exploiters, buyers, and traffickers. Likewise, Kotz says sexual exploitation survivors age 24 and younger are eligible for state support related to housing, counseling, employment training and other critical assistance.
“We want to make sure that no one, regardless of their age, is being denied needed services or housing,” Kotz said. “Beyond ending the criminalization of adult survivors, we want to help people find other ways to support themselves. We know this is an issue; men are exploiting the vulnerabilities of victims and their economic desperation. That means we have to provide the things that traffickers were providing in the past.”
For more information on Safe Harbor 4 All, visit their website.