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County gets grant to combat sex trafficking

Olmsted County will work to combat sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors with a $90,000 grant from the state, which allows for a social worker focused on the issue in the region.

Olmsted County will work to combat sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors with a $90,000 grant from the state.

The Olmsted County Board of Commissioners approved acceptance of the grant at its meeting Tuesday. The state's Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth law, passed in 2011, calls for six regional navigators in Minnesota to address the growing trafficking problem, as described by Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem Tuesday at the meeting.

"I've talked and talked and talked about trafficking," Ostrem said. "It's one of the most challenging and one of the saddest commentaries on our society."

Ostrem said his office has made an effort to prosecute those who exploit minors. In 2013, the County Attorney's office had 27 cases related to trafficking, including 10 victims, 13 johns and four pimps. In 2014, they've opened 17 cases so far, and six of the johns they found were trying to hire minors, Ostrem said.

"It's all across the state," he said. "We've seen it in the large communities, the small communities, all over."


Working out of Olmsted County, the navigator funded by the grant will be a social worker who focuses on the issue in the region's 11 counties.

Ostrem said the navigator can help to place sexually exploited youth into safe housing situations and provide them services.

"It's nice to see that we've got the regional navigator here because one of the huge resource needs is finding a place for these kids," he said.

The Safe Harbor legislation identifies children engaging in sex trafficking as victims instead of criminals under Minnesota law. The legislation also calls for rehabilitation services for trafficking victims. Two provisions of the law will go into effect in August: not classifying a sexually exploited child under age 16 as a delinquent; and creating a diversion program for children aged 16 and 17.

Olmsted County Community Corrections Director Travis Gransee said people are becoming more aware of the problem.

"It's certainly gotten the attention of us here within the county, and we're working on efforts to address things going on here regionally," Gransee said.

The county asked for $109,000 from the state to fund the social worker who will serve as regional navigator, but it received $90,000. So, the navigator will be a 0.8 full-time equivalent worker since funding wasn't fully awarded.

The navigator will help identify services for victims, work with county staff on training and identification of trafficking victims, and collaborate with county services on initiatives.

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