A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers announced Monday, Jan. 29 they would introduce legislation during the coming 2018 session designed to help prevent sex trafficking in Minnesota through education.
Rep. Randy Jessup, R-Shoreview, Rep. Laurie Pryor, D-Minnetonka, and Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, are sponsoring a bill which proposes to modify existing child sexual abuse prevention curriculum in public schools to include sexual exploitation prevention.
The announcement was timed just prior to the Super Bowl which will be held in Minneapolis Sunday, Feb. 4.
“Sex trafficking is actually very pervasive,” Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, said. She co-authored the legislation. “We can’t just stand idly by thinking that this isn’t happening in our backyard.”
During a press conference Monday, lawmakers and community leaders shared information about the legislation and heard from Girls United Minnesota founder and high school student Jessica Melnik, whose group is behind the initiative.
After experiencing sexist comments from male classmates in seventh grade, her teacher gathered five or six female students together to read a book about gender inequality in schools.
“It was really an eye-opening experience for a lot of us because it just wasn’t something we were thinking about or that it still existed,” Melnik said.
The group began meeting to read other books along the same genre the rest of that year.
“In eighth grade, we decided there was a broader community that this message would hopefully reach, and we started meeting at our local library and invited speakers from the community to come and talk to us about different social issues that impacted us,” she said. “We had speakers talk to us about body image, perfectionism, self-esteem, sex trafficking in the Dominican Republic, and rape culture on college campuses.”
In ninth grade, she and her female classmates decided to take action on some of the things they had learned.
“We had a job fair for ourselves and invited women from different professional fields to share their stories of how they got where they are today and their advice for aspiring young women in their fields, she said.
We also held a STEM event to promote women in STEM, to our fourth through sixth grade girls in our Hopkins School District. We had about 45-50 girls at the event and it was really a success for all of us.”
In 10th grade, the girls held a monthly meeting for the younger students.
“It was a really nice growing opportunity for us because we were able to share our experiences and were able to hear what concerns they had, and quite frankly, what they thought about some of the issues,” she said.
This year, they came together with their advisory board to push the initiatives further, so it’s a legacy after they’re out of school.
“We’re here today because of an event we had in November. We had a speaker from the Urban Outreach Center at the U of M come and talk to us about sex trafficking in Minnesota. We realized this was something we needed to be taught in school, so we met with our high school principal and some of our health teachers, and we told them about the urgent need of teaching this curriculum and giving kids resources and empowering them with they need to avoid these situations,” Melnik said.
A dozen Minnesota cities have issued “Not For Sale” proclamations, and Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed Feb. 15 as “Minnesota is Not For Sale” day.
“Throughout this we’ve also been meeting with a lot of legislators and communicating with them about this bill we’ve brought forward today, which will hopefully start the conversation and open many doors towards preventing sex trafficking. We’re very lucky that this has been an openly bipartisan effort, and I think that’s very nice for the younger generation to see as well,” she concluded.
Sen. Sandra L. Pappas (DFL, District 65) shared that the bill which will be introduced will provide education to warn students about dangers of human and sex trafficking.
“There are people who are trained to manipulate you, to coerce you, to persuade you they’re your boyfriend and that you’re doing them a favor by starting to traffic,” she said. “They prey on girls that are vulnerable, a lot of them are handicapped, a lot of them are girls of color, they may have problems at home, they may have been abused at home, they’re very vulnerable. This is the curriculum we hope to have schools teach and will warn girls against.”
The Link – a non-profit founded in 1991 by former Minnesota Vikings players Jim Marshall and Oscar Reed, that provides programming for youth involved in the juvenile justice system or who are experiencing homelessness or sex trafficking, has partnered with Girls United on the legislation.
“We truly appreciate Jessica Melnik and all the girls at Girls United along with the legislators that are willing to support this legislation and we just want to thank you all for making this a huge success and putting the awareness out there that sex trafficking is a huge deal in our state, not just during Super Bowl,” said Brandy Maddox, a safe harbor navigator with The Link.
Sen. Anderson said he was confident the bill will get a hearing early on in the session, and the sponsors are hoping to progress and eventually have it signed by the governor.
Statistics (can cut or break out)
Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, has received reports of 22,191 sex trafficking cases inside the United States. In 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that one in six endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 4.5 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation around the world.
For more information on human trafficking, visit polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognize-signs. To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733. For more information on The Link, visit thelinkmn.org.