by Jon Collins, Minnesota Public Radio

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A law that will treat sexually exploited children and teens as victims instead of criminals will go into effect in Minnesota next year. It's the model for legislation that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar plans to introduce that would provide similar protections on the federal level.

Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large of the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, was in Minnesota on Tuesday. He said the Twin Cities and Duluth act as a magnet for human traffickers who recruit girls and boys from rural areas.

"The pimps are understanding that there is, whether it's runaway kids or otherwise, a lot of potential for the recruiting they're doing," CdeBaca said on MPR's All Things Considered. "The pimps are luring them in with promises of a better life, new shoes, new clothes, only to hook them on drugs and keep them through violence."

CdeBaca said Minnesota's Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act and similar legislation across the country treats those being trafficked as part of the social service system rather than as part of the criminal justice system.

"What we're seeing in Minnesota is that there's always been this problem of child prostitution, but now we're starting to redefine it as human trafficking," CdeBaca said. "They're not young criminals who are prostitutes; it's the idea that these are victims."

Klobuchar said earlier this month that her bill would allow sex trafficking victims in the country illegally to obtain temporary visas. She said victims shouldn't face immediate deportation for speaking out.