A bill made law this week by Gov. Mark Dayton will lead to a three-year effort to build a statewide victim-services network for prostituted children.
The new law also clarifies that trafficked children younger than 16 years will not face criminal charges or be treated as delinquents, but as victims, said Jeff Bauer, public policy director of The Family Partnership.
"For years in Minnesota, we've had a conflict in our law, which treats girls who are caught up in prostitution, and children generally, as both victims and criminals at the same time," Bauer said. "What this law does is clarifies that children that are caught up in trafficking and prostitution are victims in need of protective services, and they are not criminals."
The law takes effect in 2014, but several county prosecutors across the state have already agreed not to criminalize prostituted juveniles.
Bauer and other advocates will over the next few years build a network of shelters and counseling programs in Minnesota to help children diverted from the sex trade.
"When the police officer finds them on the street at 2 in the morning, they need to know where to take this child. In many cases, they need medical attention, they've got injuries. They've been abused. Then there's the ongoing counseling/therapy part of this."
Minnesota is the fifth state in the nation to pass "safe harbor" law for child victims.