Updated: 01/18/2014 6:11 PM
Created: 01/18/2014 5:26 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
A Minnesota law treats sex trafficked minors as victims rather than criminals and it is helping Northland leaders fight the problem. In Duluth on Saturday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar pushed to spread that law nationwide.
Senator Klobuchar was a prosecutor herself, and said she knows how minors forced into the sex trade have been punished by the legal system. However, Duluth and St. Louis County leaders said the safe harbor law in Minnesota allows minors to be treated as victims instead of criminals.
Klobuchar met with those leaders at Life House in Duluth on Saturday. The drop in center for homeless youth recently received a $200,000 state grant to help the young victims escape exploitation.
During the press conference, Klobuchar said sex trafficking of minors is a national problem. She said the crime's prevalence has been highlighted in recent years by online advertisements selling young girls as Super Bowl specials.
“Because the Super Bowl is always one of the great American events, but it's also, sadly, an event that can attract perpetrators and people that are selling young kids for sex,” Klobuchar said.
She said the crime will be fought on a local level, and safe harbor laws are necessary to combat it. St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin agreed saying victims need to feel the law can help them.
“We want that victim to know that there is community support and that we're going to do the best job possible if she or he is willing to step forward,” Rubin said.
Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay also spoke at the conference. He said research shows teenage victims often come from troubled situations.
“We now know today that about 65 percent of all runaways are trafficked sexually somehow,” Ramsay said.
He said that has led to changes in law enforcement to reflect the idea of safe harbor for victims.
Klobuchar hopes the approach that is working in the Northland can spread nationwide. She sponsored the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act that would push states to adopt safe harbor laws or face cuts to federal law enforcement funding. She said the bill has bipartisan support.
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