Minnesota Department of Health released results of an evaluation on Wednesday, Nov. 6 showing the state’s Safe Harbor program to be effective in helping at-risk and sexually exploited youth feel hopeful and prepared.
The Safe Harbor is a Minnesota program tailored to meet the needs of at-risk, sexually exploited and sex-trafficked youth through age 24. The program practices public health, public safety, human services, and a human rights approach.
Results across the state reported:
• 97 percent of youth interviewees noted a positive change after participating in Safe Harbor programs
• 88 percent noted a positive change in their situation
• 94 percent felt hopeful from services
• 100 percent felt prepared to reach educational goals
• 94 percent said they would seek help from law enforcement if they felt unsafe
• 89 percent felt more prepared to support themselves financially in a safe way
The average age of the participants of the program were 17. The majority of participants were female at 91 percent, male at six percent and transgender at three percent. Participants of color were more than half at 59 percent.
In west-central Minnesota, 30-40 percent of the clients are male, 60-70 percent female, and 40-50 percent of clients are of color.
“It’s encouraging to see the positive impact of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor approach as we all work to address the serious problem of sexual exploitation,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said.
Regional Navigator of Safe Harbor Becki Jordan evaluated the conditions of west-central Minnesota.
The west-central portion of the state experienced the same successes as did the rest of the state, Jordan said. She specifically noted that the region is fortunate to have a consistent staff. This consistency has allowed the program staff and youth to form strong and supportive relationships.
“Forming those trusting relationships I think has been impactful for youth because they feel better supported and everyone is working together to support them,” Jordan said.
While Jordan believes that the statewide results reflect the condition of west-central Minnesota, she also emphasized the challenge that rural communities face.
“In rural areas specifically, it looks different in the ways that people are experiencing exploitation and trafficking in rural communities,” Jordan said. “The amount of support and work that we need to do with these clients (in rural areas) tends to be more significant.”
“One trend we see most often is all of the clients we are working with either are or have participated in survival sex activity,” Jordan said.
Survival sex activity is trading some type of sexual activity for something of value or to get a basic need met. These needs could be a place to stay, food and safety. Some also trade sexual activities for drugs and money.
Due to west-central Minnesota being more rural, providing access to safe housing, transportation and services to youth are the biggest challenges.
The ability for youth to be provided services such as trauma and mental health services is especially hard to come by as there are far and few among rural areas. Getting specialized services may be hours away and the majority of the youth do not have nor can afford the transportation for traveling such distances.
“That is a huge piece of the work we need to support the youth with. Figuring out ways that we can fill those gaps and be creative with partnerships and look at the organizations and services that are already available is important,” Jordan said.
Participants of this program are typically referred by staff members from a school, law enforcement, and human services. Once the participants begin the program, the staff begins by listening and forming a relationship.
“We start out with just listening, educating and supporting,” Jordan said. “Our role in support services is really meeting their self-defined needs.”
Someplace Safe is the Wilkin County referral center to access services provided through the Safe Harbor program.
Anyone who is at risk or has experienced sexual exploitation can contact Becki Jordan directly at 218-739-3486, or call the Someplace Safe crisis line at 1-800-974-3359.