Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Charges in Minnesota


Minnesota has enacted a number of laws to try and protect young people and those who have been trafficked, while continuing to criminalize sex for hire. What are the Safe Harbor laws, and how does Minnesota deal with sex trafficking and prostitution?

Safe Harbor laws are those that determine young people, now considered 24 and under, are victims and survivors, rather than criminals. Law enforcement is directed to refer these young victims to safe shelter and the supportive services they need to begin recovery. Commercial sexual exploitation is considered to have occurred when anyone 24 or under engages in sexual activity in exchange for money, drugs, food, shelter, or other forms of value.

Criminal charges can be brought against those who coerce or force young people into sexual activity. If minors are transported across state lines for the purposes of sexual exploitation, federal charges under the Mann Act will be brought, in addition to state charges. Any verbal or physical act that involves coercion, threats, deceit, or force to engage in sexual acts for commercial purposes is considered sex trafficking. In the case of very young children, those under 13, both their sex traffickers and the people who solicit them for sex will be both charged and registered as sex offenders.

Those who engage in prostitution, especially if they were trafficked when young, have a much higher rate of abuse, rape, and post-traumatic stress disorder than others. When substance abuse is used to deal with PTSD and other mental health issues related to their victimization, relations with law enforcement become more complicated. Minnesota’s No Wrong Door program is a multi-disciplinary and multi-state program that offers both education and protocol development for law enforcement and other professionals who provide services to trafficked and exploited youth, and provides victim-centered care, including safe housing and other trauma-informed services.

Sex workers who are above the age of 24 are considered to be engaged in commercial sex for hire, if offering sexual contact or penetration. Other types of sexual behavior, such as offering pictures or video, entertainment in commercial establishments, and other sexual behavior that does not involve physical contact is covered under other statutes. In most cases, charges for prostitution are misdemeanors and can carry financial and other penalties.

Penalties for those charged with or convicted of soliciting minors and adults for sexual contact or penetration depend on a host of factors, including if the sex act was engaged in a public place or in a car, previous convictions, and the age of the victim or prostitute. For those with a previous conviction of sex trafficking of minors, a further conviction will have harsher penalties, both in fines and incarceration. For those with jobs that involve a degree of public responsibility, such as teachers, being charged and convicted of soliciting a sexual act can have grave consequences, including loss of license. Soliciting sex from a minor, especially a young minor under 13, will result in registration as a sex offender, in addition to other penalties.

Misunderstanding the age of the person solicited, or believing that the person had previously engaged in prostitution, is not considered a valid defense if charged with soliciting for sexual contact or penetration.

Several Minnesota representatives and other elected officials are attempting to broaden the penalties for those charged with or convicted of sex crimes such as soliciting prostitutes.

For those engaged in prostitution, and charged with a crime, there are several legal defenses. Being coerced, such as from the threat of physical violence, is considered a valid defense. Supporting children and elderly relatives with compensation received from prostitution can be used as a mitigating factor. Prior victimization and sex trafficking, even if now an adult, is also considered mitigating, especially if no victim services were offered by law enforcement.

If you have been charged with a crime related to prostitution in Minnesota, please contact us for an appointment, or to discuss next steps.