A grant from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota led to the inclusion of an important new question on the Minnesota Student Survey that is now able to establish the first-ever prevalence estimates of young people in Minnesota who report trading sex for food, shelter, and more. The research brief shows the results of the WFMN-funded U of M School of Nursing study that shows how communities disproportionately affected by sexual exploitation intersect with race, gender, place, and additional identities, including LGBTQ+ and system-involved youth.

Minnesota’s first estimate of youth sexual exploitation indicates that at least 5,000 high school-age youth in the state have traded sex in order to receive money, food, drugs, alcohol, a place to stay or something else of value. The data shows the exploitation of high school students is happening in communities all across Minnesota. Youth of all gender identities and races reported sexual exploitation.

“Though this number is likely an underestimate, it provides a critical foundation for how our state will identify, serve, work with and build on the assets and strengths of young people involved in trading sex,” said Lauren Martin, associate professor at the University of Minnesota and researcher on the project.

Funding this research highlights why WFMN works upstream to change systems for and with young women in Minnesota. Our commitment to systems-level change that centers communities most impacted extends from MN Girls Are Not For Sale to our Fund for Safety, Young Women’s Initiative, and research. By investing in prevention and education for young people about healthy relationships, and targeting youth most at risk of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, we can make a difference in creating a state where all women and girls can thrive. The results of this study demand that we continue to invest in safety so that women and girls are free from all forms of violence and can experience their homes, schools, and communities as safe places.

Where to go for help

Sexually exploited youth are in our high school classrooms and some are connected to other systems (e.g. foster care, juvenile corrections). We can build relationships and help them thrive. Minnesota’s Safe Harbor network of services offers a statewide response for youth age 24 and under who are at risk of, or experiencing, sexual exploitation. Youth, families, and service providers can find assistance and resources at Safe Harbor.

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