Opinion: Protect children

Duluth News Tribune
 

Prostitutes are criminals. They break the law by selling sex. They should be arrested. They should be prosecuted.

Those sorts of long-held attitudes are no longer the official line in Minnesota. In 2011, the state became a national leader by adopting a more-enlightened view of the women picked up on the streets — and of the children visited in cheap hotel rooms, shabby apartments and elsewhere. A decision was made to see them, and to treat them, not as wrongdoers but as the victims they truly are.

The state passed the Safe Harbors for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, and Minnesota became just the fifth state in the country to redefine exploited, sex-trafficked children as victims of crime in need of support and services rather than as criminals in need of arrest and detention.

The law goes into effect in 2014, meaning it’s on this year’s state Legislature to approve the funding necessary to make sure counseling and other help is available and that shelters and beds are there for children who are rescued and in need of the support Minnesota so rightly has chosen to provide.

Legislation known as “Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door” — co-sponsored in the House by Duluth DFLer Rep. Tom Huntley and in the Senate by Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick — would provide $13.5 million.

The implementation legislation is based on 18 months of studying and strategizing and on a 30-page report by the state departments of Public Safety and Health and Human Services. Recommendations via “No Wrong Door” include $8.5 million for shelter housing in as many as six communities, including in Duluth; $2 million for therapeutic and culturally specific services for sex-trafficked children; $2 million for a state director, six regional heads and 14 youth street outreach workers; and $750,000 to train law enforcement and others on the front line.

The money promises to be well-spent. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and University of Indiana determined $34 in tax savings for every $1 of investment in models like “No Wrong Door.”

Two years ago, Minnesota took a leadership role to protect children and to save them from “that lifestyle.” Lawmakers can follow through now with funding to make good on their commitment.

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