Sen. Amy Klobuchar is hoping to expand Minnesota's safe harbor. The Minnesota Democrat recently joined 19 other female senators — six Republicans and 13 Democrats — in requesting a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss sex trafficking.
They got their hearing Tuesday, and Klobuchar used it to promote the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, which she hopes will encourage other states to adopt "Safe Harbor" laws to protect underage victims of sex trafficking from court charges.
Previous efforts to pass similar legislation have failed to gain traction in the Democrat-run Senate. With Republicans taking charge in the House this year, Klobuchar has said she hopes Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican from Minnesota's 3rd District, can shepherd the legislation through the House to make it a bipartisan effort.
She's also counting on recent local activity to strengthen her message. As a member of the Senate Judicial Committee, Klobuchar noted the arrest of Lee A. Paul, of Rochester, who is facing sex-trafficking related charges after allegedly picking up a 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old girl in Rochester. "It's the ultimate example of how bad this is," she said.
While we're not excited to have Rochester talked about on Capitol Hill in connection to sex trafficking, we're glad Klobuchar is leading the charge and making sure her fellow lawmakers understand how the issue can hit home — no matter where home is.
"Eighty-three percent of the victims are from our own country, and people don't always know that," the senator said, noting that raising awareness hopefully will lead to support of her bill.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who leads the Judiciary Committee, also noted the numbers are high. "Up to 100,000 minors are being sexually trafficked in the United States each year, according to the Polaris Project," the Iowa Republican said. "Through threats or deceit, human traffickers force the most vulnerable members of society into servitude to meet the demand for cheap labor and sex workers."
Klobuchar, a former Hennepin County attorney, said her bill seeks to provide enhanced community policing funds for states that adopt a safe harbor policy. Noting traditional laws across the nation prosecute underage sex trafficking victims who are forced to exchange sex for money, Klobuchar said she wants to help turn it around. "The whole idea is to help the kid, so the kid will testify against the perpetrator," she said.
It's hard to understand why such a bill would struggle. Protecting our youngest residents from predators should be a top priority across the nation, and finding a way to make sure it stays at the top of everyone's agenda should be applauded.
That's why we're thankful Klobuchar is willing to build on the success of Minnesota's 2011 Safe Harbor Law and seek to extend the protections as far as possible.