LSS Offers Support to Youth Who Have Experienced Sexual Exploitation

Monday, January 10, 2022

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is dedicated to preventing sex trafficking among youth and to providing support for young people who have experienced sexual exploitation.

A virtual “Lunch and Learn” will be offered on Thursday, January 27, from Noon-1 p.m. to hear from Lutheran Social Service leaders across the state about what is being done to prevent trafficking and support youth, and how the community can get involved. To sign up visit the event page. The effort is part of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, designed to create awareness and support for individuals who have been affected by this issue.

“Sex Trafficking is a hidden issue in our community,” said Tammy Moses, director of Youth & Family Services for Lutheran Social Service in Rochester. “Our seven Youth and Family Services regional locations across Minnesota all support young people who have experienced this trauma in their lives.”

Lutheran Social Service Rochester Youth & Family Services address the critical need for intensive case management along with housing and outreach. A Lutheran Social Service youth worker assists youth with finding and renting a safe, secure apartment within the community.

Lutheran Social Service East Central Minnesota Youth & Family Services has several resources specifically for youth and adults that have experienced commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking including housing, direct services such as case management and advocacy, crisis response, and prevention efforts. Additionally, the East Central region can assist other professionals in their response to exploitation and trafficking through education efforts, protocol development and referrals to appropriate programming.

Two services within Lutheran Social Service in the Twin Cities that are directly involved in prevention include the StreetWorks Collaborative and Cherish All Children.

The mission of the StreetWorks Collaborative is to provide collaborative leadership, outreach, education and systems reform, as they walk alongside young people ages 13-24, often representing people of color, LGBTQ2SI and other marginalized groups, who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness and sexual exploitation. StreetWorks is composed of 16 diverse youth-serving member agencies, with oversight and leadership provided by Lutheran Social Service.

Currently, services include outreach that prevents and interrupts trafficking to youth experiencing homelessness, and training for outreach workers and other direct service employees using the evidence-based StreetWorks Certification Training curriculum. Outreach teams also help with basic needs, connect youth to shelter and housing and offer ongoing support from a trusted adult.

Cherish All Children, a service of Lutheran Social Service, works with churches and community groups to prevent child sexual exploitation and trafficking by providing education, resources and support to adults and youth. They assist youth with understanding what sexual exploitation and trafficking looks like both online and in person, what vulnerabilities contribute to potential exploitation and how to keep themselves safe. They also work to engage communities to create a culture that promotes healthy and safe relationships. Their guides “My Neighbor is Not for Sale” for adult learning and “Safe and Healthy Relationships Youth Guide” for youth learning were developed for faith communities to engage in prevention nationwide.

Moses added that youth who have experienced homelessness are at an increased risk of sexual exploitation. An estimated 13,300 Minnesota youth on their own experience homelessness each year, according to Wilder Research. That includes an estimated 5,800 minors age 17 and younger on their own, and 7,500 young adults age 18 to 24. According to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, an estimated one-quarter of youth who have experienced homelessness have been sex trafficked.

Sex traffickers may be family members, friends, recent acquaintances or boyfriends/girlfriends of the person who is trafficked. Traffickers use violence, threats and manipulation to control their subjects. According to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, “Sex trafficking is the sale of a person for sex or sexual acts.” It can happen in any community and individuals can be any age, race, gender or nationality.

In 2021, Lutheran Social Service supported 55 youth statewide who had experienced sexual exploitation or trafficking by providing connection to safe housing, basic needs and referral to community resources. A major focus of their work is to provide education and awareness to the community who can help identify and prevent sex trafficking.

Moses said that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased danger for youth who are more isolated as they seek more community connection online and can be a greater risk of encountering predators. With more time at home, youth also have fewer adults watching out for them, such as teachers or school counselors.

If you or someone you know has been sexually exploited, needs support or is seeking resources, please contact Lutheran Social Service at 507.316.8273.