Recently, the DFL leadership in the Minnesota House and Senate released their proposed budget targets. While the budget targets are said to allow for investments in Minnesota’s economic future, there are deep cuts proposed in the Minnesota Health and Human Services budget that could directly affect some of our state’s most vulnerable residents in a special way, particularly our sexually exploited youth.
Currently, Minnesota has almost no safe shelter and protective services for sexually exploited youth. The Minnesota Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, which passed in 2011, goes into effect this August. Without enough funds to implement the Safe Harbor recommendations, trafficked children in Minnesota will literally have nowhere to go.
The House and Senate proposed budget increases for several government agencies, while recommending significant cuts for Health and Human Services, the budget which would include the implementation of the “Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door” legislation.
We must recognize that budgeting tends to be a series of unavoidable choices about how to balance needs and resources, and allocate burdens and sacrifices.
Finding a prudential balance of needs and resources is difficult. Yet, moral priority should be given to programs that protect the life and dignity of all human beings. And today, there are few other more shocking offenses against human dignity than the modern day slavery that is child sex trafficking.
Poorest and most defenseless
Our recent popes have made repeated statements calling attention to the grave global problem of human trafficking. Pope John Paul II called such situations “an affront to fundamental values, which are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person,” and challenged all of us to admit that victims of these crimes are “often the poorest and most defenseless members of the human family, the ‘least’ of our brothers and sisters” (Vatican City, May 15, 2002).
Most recently, Pope Francis closed his Easter Sunday address on peace by making reference to the destructive selfishness made manifest in human trafficking. Rather than a simple message deploring the many evils of armed conflict, he broadened his call for peace to include a rallying cry for “peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century.”
As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis was known as an ally of organizations working to combat labor and sex trafficking, and is said to have often visited the victims of trafficking.
Safe Harbor funding
While the awareness of the global human trafficking epidemic has grown significantly over the past two years, many people are still not aware of how serious the problem has become domestically.
Minnesota-based non-profit The Advocates for Human Rights reports that, according to one service provider, 8,000 to 12,000 people are estimated to be involved in prostitution/sex trafficking in Minnesota every day. The average age of a girl’s entry into prostitution/sex trafficking is 12 to 14 years old, and the average life expectancy of a person in prostitution is seven years.
Sex trafficking involves individuals profiting from the sexual exploitation of others, and often includes brutal physical and sexual assaults, and heartbreaking physical and psychological injuries.
These victims are subject to systematic manipulation and violent threats by their traffickers, which makes it difficult for these sexually exploited children to leave their situations voluntarily. Decriminalizing prostitution for these victims, without providing appropriate victim services and housing resources, is simply not enough.
This is where the Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door implementation bill comes in. This implementation model must be funded so that all sexually exploited youth in Minnesota have access to safe housing and services like trauma treatment and health care when Safe Harbor goes into full effect.
Services that address the basic needs of our most vulnerable children must be adequately funded.
Contact your legislators today — to encourage their support of fully funding the Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door implementation bill (SF 384; HF 485) — through the Catholic Advocacy Center under the “Take Action” tab on the Minnesota Catholic Conference website (www.mncc.org).
Zittlow is communications director for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.