Sex Trafficking in Minnesota

last updated September 2012

Sex trafficking is a horrific problem internationally, nationally, and in Minnesota. The exact number of people who have been sexually exploited is not known, but in 2003 the FBI identified Minneapolis as one of 13 U.S. cities with a large concentration of child prostitution enterprises. Minnesota studies have found that 14-20% of homeless youth have engaged in survival sex. One study that included Minneapolis youth found that 44% of homeless lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth had been approached with money, shelter, food, or drugs in exchange for sex. The problem disproportionately affects indigenous women in Minnesota: in Hennepin County, Native American women were only 2.2% of the population yet 24% of the people on probation for prostitution were Native women. Although no reliable data exists for determining the number of people involved in sex trafficking in Minnesota or elsewhere, Minnesota is addressing this problem through tougher laws and more aggressive enforcement.
Minnesota Definition of Sex Trafficking
The Minnesota legislature first passed sex trafficking legislation in 2005. The law defines “sex trafficking” as:
(1)  receiving, recruiting, enticing, harboring, providing, or obtaining by any   means an individual to aid in the prostitution of the individual; or
(2) receiving profit or anything of value, knowing or having reason to know it is derived from an act described in clause (1).[2]
Because the law defines trafficking as bringing a person into prostitution “by any means,” the Minnesota law has a significantly lower standard than the one set by federal law, which requires a showing of “force, fraud or coercion.”[3] It also states that an individual may not consent to sex trafficking.[4] For more information on the federal trafficking law see the United States country page on this website. In 2009 the Minnesota Legislature strengthened the law by increasing fines and penalties for traffickers and criminalizing the actions of those who profit from sex trafficking, among other changes.[5]
Legal Protection of Victims
In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature established an affirmative defense for sex trafficking victims accused of the crime of prostitution who show that they acted under threat of bodily harm.[6] In 2011 the legislature passed a safe harbor law recognizing that juveniles who are bought and sold for sex are not criminals, but children in need of protection. The safe harbor law resolves a conflict in the law, which previously considered children found to be “engaging in prostitution” to be both victims and juvenile delinquents. The law also brings sexually exploited youth under Minnesota’s child protection code and increases penalties against customers or “johns.” Because of the need to create systems and services for child victims of sex trafficking, some of the provisions of the safe harbor law will not go into effect until 2014.[7]
Statistics on Sex Trafficking
Because sex trafficking is a hidden crime it is difficult to assess the level of victimization in Minnesota. The Minnesota Office of Justice Programs conducts a biennial survey to determine the extent and type of human trafficking (including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking) occurring in Minnesota. In the 2012 Human Trafficking in Minnesota Report to the Minnesota Legislature service providers reported working currently with 258 adult female, 88 juvenile female, five juvenile male and one adult males sex trafficking victims in 2011. The State Court Administrator’s Office reported 614 trafficking related charges (including both sex and labor trafficking) and 390 trafficking related convictions in 2011. Service providers reported working with sex trafficking victims exploited through prostitution (62%).  They also reported working with victims forced into marriage (34%), stripping or exotic dancing (23%) and pornography (26%). Almost two-thirds of the service providers who responded to the survey served domestically trafficked victims. Even though these numbers reflect only a tiny percentage of those exploited through sex trafficking in Minnesota, they indicate who is being victimized, the nature of the exploitation and the origins of the victims.[8]
Innovative Practices
In 2006, the Minnesota legislature enacted a law that established an independent state Human Trafficking Task Force, which advises the Commissioner of Public Safety on how to address the issue of human trafficking in Minnesota. The task force is comprised of 22 governmental and non-governmental members who are knowledgeable in trafficking, crime victims’ rights, or violence protection.[9] The legislature also established a state wide toll-free hotline for sex trafficking victims in 2006. Among other functions, the hotline screens sex trafficking victims, both domestic and international, and provides appropriate referrals to attorneys and victims’ services organizations.[10]
In 2007, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Women’s Program was selected by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs to conduct a human sex trafficking needs assessment for the state.  The report Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, published in September 2008, examined the government response to this issue at the local, state, tribal and federal levels; identified facilities and services currently available to trafficking victims in Minnesota; assessed their effectiveness; and made recommendations for coordinating services to better meet the needs of sex trafficking victims statewide.[11]  As a direct result of the needs assessment, the legislature passed amendments to trafficking legislation in 2009 strengthening fines and penalties for traffickers and criminalizing the actions of those who profit from sex trafficking.

[1] “Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota,” The Advocates for Human Rights at p. 21 (2008),
[8] Human Trafficking in Minnesota, A Report to the Minnesota Legislature, Minnesota Office of Justice Programs, Minnesota Statistical Analysis Center (September 2012),
[11] Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, The Advocates for Human Rights (September 2008),