News: Report gives voice to survivors of sexual exploitation

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Marion Greene, Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, 612-348-7883

Amanda Koonjbeharry, Hennepin County No Wrong Door program, 612-348-2553

Laura Taken-Holtze, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 612-288-7451

Maria Elena Baca, Hennepin County Communications, 612-348-7865



Report gives a voice to survivors of youth sexual exploitation

In hopes of informing the way sexually exploited youth and adults services are provided services , a coalition of government and nonprofit advocates gathered first-hand testimonials from people who have survived sexual abuse and exploitation as youth, during a six-month focus group and survey project during 2014 and 2015.

The result is the report “Voices of Safe Harbor: Survivor & Youth Input for Minnesota’s Model Protocol on Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Youth,” released Monday. Commissioned by the Hennepin County No Wrong Door initiative and Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, and led by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, facilitators surveyed 72 survivors ages 12 to 46 on a variety of topics, including misperceptions, family, sexual health education, needs of survivors, what should happen to traffickers and buyers, and more.

Testimonial hoped to shape policy, services

The effort is meant to inform a coordinated response to victims and survivors under Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law, which defines youth who are sexually exploited as victims and survivors, not as criminals. To make the focus groups and surveys possible, 13 social service providers and county entities across the state connected researchers and participants. 

"These children have been abused and marginalized, and until the passage of the Safe Harbor Law were treated as criminals rather than victims and survivors,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene. “This report is an incredible opportunity for all of us to better understand why that characterization was so harmful and misleading. These direct voices will inform policy makers' ability to support survivors, and to prevent future sexual exploitation."

First-hand statements from victims and survivors of sexual exploitation are rare and difficult to gather for a variety of reasons, including confidentiality concerns, fears of stigmatization or retaliation and a simple desire to move on with life and not look back. The report moves beyond familiar narratives to reveal a connection between sexual exploitation and survivors’ earlier experiences of abuse, neglect and social isolation, as well as their current experience of shaming, fear and institutional barriers to personal growth and transformation.  

“Victims and survivors are the true experts on the issue of sexual exploitation,” said Jeanne Ronayne, MNCASA Executive Director. “Recognizing and addressing those connections is key to effectively responding to sexual exploitation and preventing it.”

Themes include need for sex ed, empathy, cultural competency

More than half of the participants were ages 14-17; two were younger. The rest ranged from 18 to 42; the majority of those were younger than 24. Participants identified  as women, men and gender nonconforming.

Strong themes emerge from participants’ testimony:

  • A need for strong, comprehensive sexual health education, with an emphasis on healthy relationships, which many of the participants had never seen modeled in their lives
  • A desire for empathy from parents, friends, therapists and people who help them from the social services and law enforcement communities.
  • A need for cultural responsiveness among the people who are there to help them, not only in terms of race and cultural understanding, but in terms of sexual and gender identities and socioeconomic background.

Through this report, participants provide practical wisdom on how communities statewide can best respond to victim/survivors of sexual exploitation and prevent it from happening in the first place. The report is being released on Monday, January 25, in conjunction with the quarterly meeting of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force.

Learn more and access the report at


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