Shivering in the Shadows

By Brett Stevens May 16, 2013

Categories: Our Affairs, Politics

In our society, parents are primarily responsible for making sure their children are taken care of.  Because of the bonds of affinity between a parent and a child, in most cases the parent will make sure the child is fed, nurtured and given a place to lay her head.  But, there are those on the edges of society whose children are not supported.  These forgotten children are helped by government and other groups.  Unfortunately some fall through the cracks and become used by selfish, amoral monsters.  Here is where we have a responsibility to help give these child victims a chance.

On July 19, 2011, the legislature passed a “Safe Harbor Act” within the judicial funding bill following the government shutdown.  Mike Cook from the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services explains in  “Keeping the courts adequately funded,” August 11, 2011:

Effective Aug. 1, 2014, it provides that a juvenile under age 16 cannot be prosecuted for a prostitution offense under the state’s delinquency code. A 16- or 17-year-old alleged to have committed a first-time prostitution offense will be referred to diversion or child protection with an opportunity for the case to be dismissed. The law increases penalty assessments on patrons of prostitution and dedicates 40 percent of those fines to victim’s services for sexually exploited youth. 

Basically, sexually exploited children were still considered delinquents under Minnesota law.  These changes allow these youth to be immune from prosecution and find help for them to get out of horrific living situations.  Immature, alone, and isolated from help, these victims are frightened of everyone involved, from their abusers to the police trying to help them.  In fact, this isn’t a problem that is going away.

From a Star Tribune editorial “Minnesota law for sex trafficking victims,” April 11, 2013:

For the past two years, a St. Paul sex ring operated by one family allegedly preyed on especially vulnerable women and children — some as young as 15, and some bipolar or mentally challenged — in what Ramsey County authorities described as ‘modern day human slavery.’

The four men and one woman charged Wednesday in connection with the ring used what is becoming the key tool of the trade — ads on adult-oriented websites such as Backpage.com — to traffic the women as far away as Ely, according to the criminal complaint filed by the county attorney’s office.

Trapped in this life of exploitation, these children have nowhere to turn even when they are removed from their horrible circumstances.  Foster homes may not be an appropriate place for getting them treatment they need.  These children have been abused by adults in such ways they are wounded emotionally, mentally and physically.  Sometimes they are also purposely made chemically addicted.

From the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s study called “No Wrong Door”:

Sexual exploitation is traumatic and destructive, and many sexually exploited youth are provided drugs and alcohol from their traffickers. Because of this, sexually exploited youth have many medical, psychological and chemical health needs. These can include broken bones and other physical traumas, as well as sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, hepatitis, traumatic brain injuries, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. These myriad issues make it difficult for sexually exploited youth and those at risk for exploitation to navigate multiple systems, service agencies and providers.

So, what does this have to do with the GLBT community?  I’m glad you asked.

The Williams Institute, a GLBT think tank at UCLA, asked people who work to help the homeless who they were assisting:

“Respondents suggested that a very large portion of their clients were sexual minorities. When asked to give the number of clients that they served (homeless and non-homeless) by their sexual orientation, the figures suggest that 30% of their clients were gay or lesbian and 9% were bisexual.”

Considering Gallup found about 3.5% of us identify as GLBT, these percentages are staggering.  What’s more, this study called, ‘Serving Our Youth:  Findings from a National Survey of Services Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless,’ was published LAST YEAR.  This is a contemporaneous finding of an enormous number of vulnerable GLBT youth.

But, that isn’t all the Williams Institute study found:

“Respondents say that about four in ten LGBT homeless youth clients have been subject to sexual exploitation and sexual assault. About a third have been in foster care, have experienced domestic partner abuse, and have had contact with the juvenile justice system.”

While we have social workers, homeless shelters, and other various public programs helping these children, there is no place for them to go if they are freed from their situation.

We need to change this.  The GLBT community needs to take this issue to heart and drive the debate forward to get funding for shelter and counseling for these youth.  Rep. Susan Allen, Minneapolis, has proposed state funding for this initiative.  That is a start.   However do we, as a community, need to consider doing even more?  Will this be enough to help these exploited GLBT youth many of whom will have unique challenges?  This issue is something no one wants to talk about.  No matter how painful, we need to consider doing so.  These children need someone to advocate for them.  If not us, who?

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The Williams Institute study can be found at this web address:  http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Durso-Gates-LGBT-Homeless-Youth-Survey-July-2012.pdf

“No Wrong Door” from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety can be found at this web address: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ojp/forms-documents/Documents/!2012%20Safe%20Harbor%20Report%20(FINAL).pdf

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