Safe Harbor for All Strategic Planning Process

Safe Harbor for All report cover

The Safe Harbor for All Strategic Planning Process Report identifies potential impacts of policy changes on the safety, health, dignity and justice for adults involved in transactional sex, including victims of trafficking, and exploitation. Based on input from 294 stakeholders from across Minnesota, the report sheds light on the intended and unintended harms—including lack of housing and police protection— to adults who are trafficked for sex or are involved in transactional sex. 

Media note: Contact Patrick Stumpf, University Public Relations, to speak with lead researcher Lauren Martin. 

Download the report or read the news release

What is the Safe Harbor for All Strategic Planning Process Report?

In 2011, the Minnesota State Legislature enacted the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, which decriminalized youth under age 18 who are trafficked, victims of commercial sexual exploitation, or involved in any form of transactional sex. The legislation created a statewide system of regional "navigators" with expanded and enhanced housing, services and supports called the No Wrong Door initiative. State funding of the initiative currently provides more than $13 million biannually to state agencies and nonprofit service providers.  In 2017, the initiative expanded eligibility for services and housing to young people through age 24.

In 2017, the Legislature mandated a strategic planning process to explore the potential expansion of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Act and help decide next steps in seeking the most appropriate and effective response for adults impacted by commercial sexual exploitation and sex trading. The Legislature funded a grant to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which awarded the project to a three-agency team led by the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) and which included the The Advocates for Human Rights and Rainbow Research. The result —the Safe Harbor For All Strategic Planning Process—included extensive stakeholder input, analysis of existing data, and review of the literature. 

What were the Research Methods used in the Strategic Planning Process?

UROC led the Strategic Planning Team with partners the Advocates for Human Rights and Rainbow Research. The project sought to document and capture the opinions of a broad range of stakeholder groups through a community-engaged research process. The team used a purposeful sampling technique to connect with a broad and comprehensive range of stakeholders.  Data was collected from 290 stakeholders across Minnesota, with emphasis on the following key groups: 

  • People with lived experience in transactional sex (sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, independent selling or trading sex, and sex work); 
  • Communities most impacted by sex trafficking in Minnesota: people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, and refugees, LGBTQ communities; and
  • Stakeholders with professional work including service providers, police, prosecutors, advocates, and more. 

The Strategic Planning Team collected data via in-person, one-on-one interviews and small group meetings throughout the state, as well as through phone interviews and an online survey. The process was guided by a 35-member Process Advisory Group made up of the stakeholders listed above, with more than 60 percent of the group having lived experience in transactional sex. A full description of the process can be found in the report's pages 16-27. 

What does "Lived Experience" Mean?

Language related to prostitution—or more broadly speaking, transactional sex—can be complicated, confusing and stigmatizing. Minnesota prostitution laws define a “prostitute” as someone who is hired or agrees to be hired to engage in prostitution and a “patron” as someone who pays or hires a “prostitute.” The Safe Harbor for All Strategic Planning Process report does not use these terms, as stakeholder input unanimously identified the term “prostitute” as derogatory and stigmatizing. Additionally, most stakeholders suggested the term “patron” does not accurately convey the behavior of purchasing sex. The nuances of language, terminology, and legal models related to prostitution and transactional sex are important because the words used can convey respect, inclusion, and understanding or stigma and harm. The researchers used the term “lived experience” for all people who provide sex directly to a sex buyer. People with lived experience include victims and survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation, independent providers, and sex workers. 

What are the Report's Key Findings?

  • Without exception, stakeholders believe that all adults with lived experience face collateral harms due to stigma and criminalization of prostitution including lack of housing, discrimination, and lack of police protection. The state should take steps to prevent, mitigate and remedy these harms. There is widespread agreement that prostitution arrests negatively affect all people with lived experience, their children and their families and these harms undermine an individual’s rights to health, safety, dignity and justice.
  • There is broad support for changing the legal approach in Minnesota and expanding the Minnesota’s Safe Harbor program to all adults with lived experience.
  • The report identified many opinions—and some deep disagreement— on what Minnesota should do to better support adult victims and survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. 
  • System responses require leadership by people with lived experience, particularly people from communities of color, indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, and LGBTQ people. System responses should reflect the diverse communities which experience trafficking and exploitation in all levels of design, decision-making, implementation and evaluation.
  • Most stakeholders identified partial decriminalization of selling sex as the most promising approach to preventing and mitigating the harms experienced by people with lived experience.
  • Partial decriminalization should be implemented in tandem with expansion and enhancement of robust services and housing. Stakeholders said the services should recognize individual strengths and self-determination, incorporate cultural and community ways of healing, and be delivered with respect. Focusing on the legal framework is not enough.
  • Tribal nationals and indigenous communities must be engaged in planning and implementation. American Indian people are disproportionately impacted and there are unique strengths of cultural and community healing.
  • Policy conversations need to include the range of experience related to commercial sex: survivors of trafficking, sexual exploitation, survival sex, sex workers, and independent providers. Many of these experiences are not mutually exclusive and may be overlapping.
  • With some exceptions, stakeholders supported continued criminal liability for buying sex. The majority of stakeholders believed that there needs to be more consistent sentencing and charging for people who purchase sex.

What Recommendations does the Report Make?

The Strategic Planning Team proposes 19 recommendations that call for changes to Minnesota’s criminal and civil statutes, as well as focused planning and more state funding to expand and enhance services, supports and housing for people with lived experience.  The recommendations are divided into five sections: approach and philosophy; relevant criminal issues; availability and access to prevention and intervention services; tribal sovereignty and indigenous communities; and training, reforms, and evaluation.

What Stakeholder Groups were Mandated for Inclusion?

•    Victims and survivors of trafficking and exploitation; 
•    Social service providers who work with victims and survivors; 
•    People with tribal affiliation; 
•    Staff and participants of crime victim coalitions, 
•    Participants in human trafficking task forces; 
•    Prosecutors and public defenders; 
•    Police and probation officers; 
•    Staff from organizations that address intersecting issues; and
•    Researchers in the field.

Who Participated in the Process?

A total of 294 stakeholders participated in the strategic planning process. Individuals from throughout Minnesota participated, including from the Twin Cities West Metro (31.3%), East Metro (26.4%), Northeast (12.5%), Southwest (9.7%), Northwest (6.6%), Central (4.9%), Southeast (4.5%), and West Central (2.4%). Just under 2% did not provide a location. Of those, 111 self-identified as having lived experience (38.5%), which means that 177 people (61.5%) who participated did not identify any lived experience.

People with lived experience who participated in the strategic planning process were diverse in many ways.  Individuals could select more than one race/ethnicity, including 49.5% white/European American (37.8% identified only as white), 31.5% African/Black/African American, 21.6% Indigenous/Native American, 20.7% Multi-racial, 6.3% Asian/Asian American, 5.4% Latinx, and 3.6% Immigrant/Foreign born. The majority of participants with lived experience identified as female (94%) with a smaller number identifying as transgender or gender non-binary (9%). Only 2% identified as male. Twenty percent identified as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or pansexual. The age range was 18 to 70 years old. Most participants with lived experience identified as survivors of trafficking (45%) or sexual exploitation (40%). Participants also identified as sex workers (25%), “prostitutes” (19%), and independent providers (12%). Some participants selected multiple terms to describe their involvement in transactional sex.

We asked individuals to identify professional roles they have that are related to their knowledge about transactional sex. Participants were able to select more than one role. A total of 233 people identified a professional role. Fifty-six (56) people identified both a professional role related to transactional sex and lived experience. Professional roles included outreach workers, social workers, police officers (including  detectives and investigators), prosecutors, public health professionals, attorneys, therapists, public defenders/defense attorneys, probation officers, academics, hotel/hospitality workers, nurses, members of the faith community, philanthropy and judges. Approximately half of participants said they had some connection to one of Minnesota’s many human trafficking task forces and 12% identified themselves as formally affiliated with a tribal agency or entity. 

A complete description of who participated is provided in the full report.

How was the Process Funded?

The Legislature and Minnesota Department of Health provided $67,000 for the strategic planning process. The agency partners provided significant additional resources that included in-kind time, recruitment and coordination of volunteers, and $33,417 in additional funds contributed and raised by UROC.