Legislation is modeled after Minnesota’s “Safe Harbor” laws that help make sure minors sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants but are instead treated as victims  

Fargo, N.D. – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Heidi Heitkamp today joined law enforcement and social service advocates to push bipartisan legislation to crack down on sex trafficking on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, which Senator Klobuchar authored and Senator Heitkamp cosponsored, will give prosecutors the tools they need to tackle domestic minor sex trafficking and help make sure victims of these horrific crimes receive the support they need. The bill is modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws which help ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants, but rather are treated as victims. Statistics show on average children are 13 years old when they are forced to become victims of sex trafficking.

“As a former prosecutor, I know the horror and violence women and children experience as victims of crimes like human trafficking,” said Klobuchar. “In Minnesota, we have already recognized that kids sold for sex are victims and not criminals. We need to take that model and expand it nationally so these victims receive the support they need and not be locked up in jail.”

“While we already knew human and sex trafficking was a serious and growing concern, it was very helpful to hear from folks who are dealing with this issue right here in our communities,” said Heitkamp. “As a former Attorney General, I know how important it is to assist victims of these horrific crimes, and do all we can to prevent them from happening in the first place. Working with Senator Klobuchar and a bipartisan coalition of other Senators on our bill, I’m committed to raising awareness about human and sex trafficking, and putting in place concrete steps to put an end to it.”

Safe harbor laws recognize that kids sold for sex are not criminals and should not be arrested, charged, or convicted under criminal law. The legislation also creates a National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking and expands eligibility for victims of sex trafficking to qualify for job training and skill building programs.

Klobuchar has also introduced the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act with Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Senator Heitkamp is also a cosponsor. This bipartisan legislation would boost support for and protection of victims of human trafficking by increasing law enforcement resources, enhancing victims’ services and increasing penalties in an effort to combat child sex trafficking, child pornography, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Since becoming a U.S. Senator, Heitkamp is continuing the work she started as North Dakota’s Attorney General to combat human and sex trafficking. In September, Heitkamp helped lead a Senate hearing to better understand the work being done on the federal, state, and local levels to combat human trafficking. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, which Heitkamp asked the Committee hold, brought together officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice, and non-profit leaders who are on the frontlines of addressing human trafficking.