The Safe Harbor for All Strategic Planning Process Report identifies potential impacts of policy changes on the safety, health, dignity and justice for adults involved in transactional sex, including victims of trafficking, and exploitation. Based on input from 294 stakeholders from across Minnesota, the report sheds light on the intended and unintended harms—including lack of housing and police protection— to adults who are trafficked for sex or are involved in transactional sex.

Rainbow Staff Misty Blue, Al Kuenzli, Katie Fritz Fogel and Selam Tilahun celebrating the report’s release!


In 2011, the Minnesota State Legislature enacted the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, which decriminalized youth under age 18 who are trafficked, victims of commercial sexual exploitation, or involved in any form of transactional sex. The legislation created a statewide system of regional “navigators” with expanded and enhanced housing, services and supports called the No Wrong Door initiative. State funding of the initiative currently provides more than $13 million biannually to state agencies and nonprofit service providers.  In 2017, the initiative expanded eligibility for services and housing to young people through age 24.

In 2017, the Legislature mandated a strategic planning process to explore the potential expansion of Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Act and help decide next steps in seeking the most appropriate and effective response for adults impacted by commercial sexual exploitation and sex trading. The Legislature funded a grant to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which awarded the project to a three-agency team led by the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) and which included the The Advocates for Human Rights and Rainbow Research. The result —the Safe Harbor For All Strategic Planning Process—included extensive stakeholder input and review of the literature.


UROC led the Strategic Planning Team with partners the Advocates for Human Rights and Rainbow Research. The project sought to document and capture the opinions of a broad range of stakeholder groups through a community-engaged research process. The team used a purposeful sampling technique to connect with a broad and comprehensive range of stakeholders.  Data was collected from 290 stakeholders across Minnesota, with emphasis on the following key groups:
•    People with lived experience in transactional sex (sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, independent selling or trading sex, and sex work);
•    Communities most impacted by sex trafficking in Minnesota: people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, and refugees, LGBTQ communities; and
•    Stakeholders with professional work including service providers, police, prosecutors, advocates, and more.
The Strategic Planning Team collected data via in-person, one-on-one interviews and small group meetings throughout the state, as well as through phone interviews and an online survey. The process was guided by a 35-member Process Advisory Group made up of the stakeholders listed above, with more than 60 percent of the group having lived experience in transactional sex. A full description of the process can be found in the report’s pages 16-27.


Language related to prostitution—or more broadly speaking, transactional sex—can be complicated, confusing and stigmatizing. Minnesota prostitution laws define a “prostitute” as someone who is hired or agrees to be hired to engage in prostitution and a “patron” as someone who pays or hires a “prostitute.” The Safe Harbor for All Strategic Planning Process report does not use these terms, as stakeholder input unanimously identified the term “prostitute” as derogatory and stigmatizing. Additionally, most stakeholders suggested the term “patron” does not accurately convey the behavior of purchasing sex. The nuances of language, terminology, and legal models related to prostitution and transactional sex are important because the words used can convey respect, inclusion, and understanding or stigma and harm. The researchers used the term “lived experience” for all people who provide sex directly to a sex buyer. People with lived experience include victims and survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation, independent providers, and sex workers.

  • Without exception, stakeholders believe that all adults with lived experience face collateral harms due to stigma and criminalization of prostitution including lack of housing, discrimination, and lack of police protection. The state should take steps to prevent, mitigate and remedy these harms. There is widespread agreement that prostitution arrests negatively affect all people with lived experience, their children and their families and these harms undermine an individual’s rights to health, safety, dignity and justice.
  • There is broad support for changing the legal approach in Minnesota and expanding the Minnesota’s Safe Harbor program to all adults with lived experience.
  • The report identified many opinions—and some deep disagreement— on what Minnesota should do to better support adult victims and survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
  • System responses require leadership by people with lived experience, particularly people from communities of color, indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, and LGBTQ people. System responses should reflect the diverse communities which experience trafficking and exploitation in all levels of design, decision-making, implementation and evaluation.
  • Most stakeholders identified partial decriminalization of selling sex as the most promising approach to preventing and mitigating the harms experienced by people with lived experience.
  • Partial decriminalization should be implemented in tandem with expansion and enhancement of robust services and housing. Stakeholders said the services should recognize individual strengths and self-determination, incorporate cultural and community ways of healing, and be delivered with respect. Focusing on the legal framework is not enough.
  • Tribal nationals and indigenous communities must be engaged in planning and implementation. American Indian people are disproportionately impacted and there are unique strengths of cultural and community healing.
  • Policy conversations need to include the range of experience related to commercial sex: survivors of trafficking, sexual exploitation, survival sex, sex workers, and independent providers. Many of these experiences are not mutually exclusive and may be overlapping.
  • With some exceptions, stakeholders supported continued criminal liability for buying sex. The majority of stakeholders believed that there needs to be more consistent sentencing and charging for people who purchase sex.

The Strategic Planning Team proposes 19 recommendations that call for changes to Minnesota’s criminal and civil statutes, as well as focused planning and more state funding to expand and enhance services, supports and housing for people with lived experience.  The recommendations are divided into five sections: approach and philosophy; relevant criminal issues; availability and access to prevention and intervention services; tribal sovereignty and indigenous communities; and training, reforms, and evaluation.

Read the Full Report!