ICE Takes Parents Away

Immigration marchCesia Soza, 17, and her brother, Ronald Jr., 14, came home from school one day in September in Pompano Beach, Florida, to find their father missing. While in class earlier that day, they had been in the dark about what was happening to their father,

After having dropped Cesia and Ronald Jr. off at school, their father, Ronald Soza, returned home to find U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on the family’s doorstep. An undocumented immigrant from Nicaragua, Soza was taken to a detention center.

He was deported to Nicargua to join his wife and the children’s mother, Marisela, who had been taken away and deported by ICE five years earlier.

Their parents gone, Cesia and Ronald Jr. face a frightening future. They’re not alone. The Soza siblings represent America’s young legal residents who are at risk for long-term emotional trauma because of a system that doesn’t deal with the situation. About 5,100 U.S. children in 22 states have lost parents to deportation, according to the Applied Research Center. Some 15,000 more face similar threat in the next five years. On average, 17 children are placed in state care each day as a result of the detention and removal of immigrant parents, according to ICE.

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“You truly created a small miracle . . .”

Cheryl Thomas, director of The Advocates' Women's Human Rights Program
Cheryl Thomas, director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program

We have just returned from 16 days in the Balkans working with advocates and legal professionals towards a better legal system response to crimes of violence against women.  We are greatly inspired and energized to see the progress and all the ways we have and will continue to contribute to it.

In Belgrade, Serbia, we presented a training that turned out to be an incredible experience. The participants were about 50 legal professionals from all over Serbia – police, prosecutors, judges, NGO’s, and government social workers. Serbia’s domestic violence laws are about 10 years old, and there are many struggles to implement them in a way that truly keeps women safe and holds violent offenders accountable.

The Advocates for Human Rights’ training team, Duluth Police Lieutenant Scott Jenkins, Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance, and women’s advocate Shelly Carlson, from Moorhead, were all brilliant. The depth and breadth of their experience both as practitioners and trainers was so evident as they engaged the participants, encouraged their questions, modeled the practices they use in their own professions, role-played to bring their points to life, and lectured when needed. They were powerful with their messages, yet flexible to the needs of the audience, adapting planned activities along the way.  The tone was one of sharing knowledge and lessons learned in Minnesota, where our experience with reform on violence against women is 40 years old –  among the oldest legacies in the world.

We tried a new approach of breaking each sector into separate training audiences for the first day and then bringing them all back together for the second day to communicate and collaborate with the other sectors. This showed the essence of the Coordinated Community Response Model created by Ellen Pence in Duluth, Minnesota.

The first day, we were able to focus on best practices within specific disciplines. For example, the prosecutors needed detailed information about why victims recant and how to obtain convictions based on thorough gathering of evidence. The second day, continuing our use of a hypothetical fact situation where a woman was thrown down the stairs, strangled and later threatened with a gun to her head if she testified, we demonstrated that each agency only has limited information about the case. In order to truly protect the victim and hold the offender accountable, they needed to work together with each other and the victim’s advocate. For example, the police and prosecutors did not know that the victim had been threatened. Also, there was limited information about the strangulation, until the victim described it to the NGO’s. Without this, the exercise showed how the legal system would be less likely to treat the case seriously and release the violent man at the first court hearing.

The participants were actively engaged over the two days and hugely grateful for the experience.  The United States Embassy staff in Belgrade, who hosted the event, were thrilled, calling the training “transformational.” One said,

“Let me assure you that you truly created a small miracle with your extraordinary professional expertise combined with such exquisite cultural sensitivity and deeply touching humanity. We are grateful to you, and I personally am humbled to have had the privilege to be part of this event. I admire all of you, thank you for sharing so generally, and making a difference beyond what we could have imagined.”

Scott Shelly Cheryl and Kathryn with U S Embassy staff in Serbia 10-19
The Advocates’ team and U.S. Embassy
staff in Belgrade, Serbia

We are excited to take this new model to other venues throughout the world.

From Belgrade, we traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, for more workshops with advocates and police. This work continues our 20-year partnership with the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF) to improve laws on violence against women and their implementation. Rose Park, The Advocates’ research director, worked with volunteer Deb Fowler, a consultant on leadership and team-building, to present a workshop for women’s rights advocates. The goal was to enhance leadership skills that will sustain and grow the movement to end violence against women.

Lieutenant Scott Jenkins and I traveled on to Burgas, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea coast, to work with 25 police officers. Several of these officers are leaders in the movement to end domestic violence in Bulgaria and were eager to tap into the extensive experience of Lieutenant Jenkins on problems they face in the implementation of their laws.  For example, many of these officers had never had training in how to investigate and document attempted strangulation, common in domestic violence cases. They were unaware of the serious nature of this crime – which Minnesota now prosecutes as a felony – because often the only visible injuries are bruising and scratches. They learned how this kind of assault can qualify as attempted murder and how internal injuries can result. The two days were filled with lively and animated dialogue.

Police workshop in Burgas Bulgaria
Law enforcement workshop participants
in Burgas, Bulgaria

We left the Balkans with plans to return and continue this dynamic work. One initiative we are working on with our partners is The Black Sea Academy, a long-term training institute on violence against women. This would be a forum for learning and progress for legal professionals, advocates and social workers all over the region toward the goal of ending violence against women and girls.

We are so grateful to have such tremendous support for this important work!

By: Cheryl Thomas, director of The Advocates Women’s Human Rights Program

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

African Commission on Human and People's Rights

A delegation from the government of Cameroon is appearing this week before the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to delve into human rights conditions in Cameroon and to respond to questions.

Reflecting grave concerns about violence that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon, the NGO Forum hosted by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies last weekend adopted a resolution condemning this human rights abuse. The resolution will therefore be presented to the African Commission for consideration during the closed portion of its session next week.

The Advocates for Human Rights’ partner organizations, Le Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), participated in the NGO Forum. During the Commission’s review of Cameroon this week, Patience Ngo Mbe of REDHAC delivered an oral statement on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon. Our friends at African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR) and Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) also released a report on violence based on perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa in conjunction with the resolution being brought before the NGO forum.

Following the session, the African Commission will announce any resolutions it has adopted and will issue concluding observations and recommendations to the government of Cameroon about a myriad of human rights abuses in Cameroon. It is our hope that the Commission will home in on violence perpetrated because of actual and perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution adopted by the NGO Forum is the product of several years of planning and advocacy by African non-governmental organizations. It reads as follows:

Resolution on Violence and Human Rights Violations against Persons on the Basis of their Imputed or Real Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Africa

Recalling that Article 4[o] of the Constitutive Act of the African Union recognizes respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity as a guiding principle of the African Union;

Recalling also that Articles 3 and 28 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognize the equality of every individual under the law and the right of every individual to equal protection of the law, and the duty of every individual to respect and consider his fellow human beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance respectively;

Recalling further that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirm the inherent dignity of all human beings that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status;

Noting that Article 29[7] of the African Charter requires every individual to preserve and strengthen positive African cultural values in his relations with other members of society in the spirit of tolerance, dialogue and consultation;

Noting also that Article 45 of the African Charter, which mandates the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, protects human and peoples’ rights in Africa;

Noting further that Article 60 of the African Charter requires the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to draw inspiration from the content of other international treaties and laws, and further noting that articles 2(1) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which all African states are party, as well article 2 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) establish the principle of non discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, as elaborated respectively by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and that

U.N. treaty bodies and Special Procedures, including the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other inhuman, degrading and cruel punishments and treatments, the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, have consistently held that the International Bill of Rights includes protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;

Expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination committed against individuals because of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity, which include arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail, violent attacks such as rape and other sexual assault, physical assaults, torture and murder;

Further alarmed at the incidence of violence and human rights violations and abuses by State and non-state actors targeting human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa;

Deeply disturbed by the unwillingness of law enforcement agencies to diligently investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence and other human rights violations targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity;


1              Condemns the increasing incidence of violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, persecution and imprisonment of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa;

2              Condemns exclusion of individuals and communities from the enjoyment of rights and the full realization of their potential because of their real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity;

3              Specifically condemns the situation of systematic attacks by state and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity;

4              Strongly urges States to end impunity for acts of violation and abuse, whether committed by state or non-state actors, by enacting appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identities, ensure proper investigation and diligent prosecution of the perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures favorable to the victims.

Shadow Reports Submitted

In related action, The Advocates and its partners also submitted reports in advance of the 54th Ordinary Session for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ consideration, including:

1. A report on the violation of rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon was submitted in collaboration with CAMFAIDS, REDHAC, L’Association pour la Défense des Droits des Homosexuels (ADEFHO). The report describes the widespread persecution of and discrimination against people on the basis of perceived and actual sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. A report on the rights of women in Cameroon was submitted in collaboration with Ecumenical Service for Peace, addressing four forms of violence-rape, domestic violence, breast ironing and, female genital mutilation, as well as the issue of women’s access to employment. The report demonstrates that Cameroon does not do enough to protect and promote the rights of women.

3. A report on the death penalty and detention conditions was submitted in partnership with Droits et Paix. This report shows that despite a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, Cameroon continues to sentence people to death and retains the possibility of carrying out these sentences. The report also describes serious human rights violations in the country’s detention facilities.

By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development and communications assistant

Public Policy Must Address Dynamics of Trafficking

candle-flameU.S. Representative Erik Paulsen (Minnesota, Third District) testified yesterday before the United States House Ways and Means Committee’s Human Resources Subcommittee on the need to address and prevent sex trafficking in our communities and around the nation.

Prior to the hearing, Rep. Paulsen reached out to The Advocates of Human Rights, asking the organization to submit a statement to enter into the Congressional record.

The Advocates’ complete statement, written by Michelle Garnett McKenzie reads,

“The Advocates for Human Rights is a non-governmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights. With the help of hundreds of volunteers each year, The Advocates investigates and exposes human rights violations; represents immigrants and refugees in our community who are victims of human rights abuses; trains and assists groups that protect human rights; and works through education and advocacy to engage the public, policy makers, and children about human rights.

“We thank the Subcommittee for its attention to the issue of sex trafficking of America’s youth. We offer this written statement for the record to highlight the responsibility for government to provide an effective response to sex trafficking. We also note that sex trafficking is a demand-driven crime involving two criminal perpetrators: the promoter and the purchaser of prostitution. Any public policy response to sex trafficking should recognize that prevention and accountability must accompany harm reduction strategies. Finally, we note that just as homeless and runaway youth are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, they are also vulnerable to labor trafficking. Data collection efforts should include both sex and labor trafficking.

“Sex trafficking is a human rights violation. It involves individuals profiting from the sexual exploitation of others and often results in brutal physical and psychological assaults and devastating injuries. Governments have an obligation to take effective measures to prevent sex trafficking, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide appropriate remedies to victims. Minnesota is a leader in adopting a human rights approach to ending sex trafficking which includes: (1) criminal accountability for perpetrators of sex trafficking (including both the promoters and the purchasers) with appropriate sanctions; (2) recognition of victims of sex trafficking as crime victims, not criminal perpetrators; and (3) ensuring services are available to victims.

“Public Policy Must Address the Dynamics of Trafficking

“Human trafficking is not new to Minnesota. Minnesota has been a place of origin, transit, and destination for sex trafficking operations long before federal or state law defined the crime of “sex trafficking.” Beginning in 2005, Minnesota adopted a strong legal framework criminalizing the human trafficking, including sex trafficking of adults and children. Unlike federal law, Minnesota defines sex trafficking to include the most common form of prostitution – that involving a “pimp” or “promoter.”[1]

“Sex trafficking is a predatory and violent crime which often results in significant harm to the victim.[2] Traffickers use manipulative and sophisticated grooming, breaking, and control tactics. Manipulated by the traffickers, victims often view their traffickers as boyfriends and quickly return to them after any legal intervention. Traffickers use violence or threats of violence against the victims and/or their families, to keep them from voluntarily leaving the trafficking situation or seeking help. Furthermore, victims of trafficking often are ashamed and fear rejection or ostracism by their families or communities if they try to return home. Due to these complex factors, appropriate housing is critical to a victim’s safety and recovery.

“Sex traffickers prey upon those they see as vulnerable. While in some cases very young children are trafficked, by and large, trafficked children are adolescents. Children who are sex trafficked often have other risk factors that make them more vulnerable to being trafficked. For example, many are runaway or homeless youth, have drug or alcohol problems, are in a gang, or are gay, lesbian, or transgender homeless youth.[3] Homeless youth are particularly susceptible, often being exploited by men extorting sex in exchange for food or shelter. On any given night, an estimated 2,500 Minnesota youth experience homelessness.[4] The children who are at the most risk for sexual exploitation are those who have run away or have been “thrown away” from their homes.[5]Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in the United States each year.[6] Traffickers prey upon runaway children because of their mental, physical, and financial vulnerability. For the trafficked children who have run away from home or have suffered physical or sexual abuse in their homes, family reunification may be difficult or impossible.

“Nationally, the average age a child enters into sexual exploitation is between 12 and 14 years.[7]In 2003, the FBI identified Minneapolis as having a high concentration of criminal enterprises exploiting children through prostitution.[8] Sexual exploitation of children often begins with physical and/or sexual abuse or neglect in the home. Research from Minneapolis, which is supported by local service providers, finds four common paths for young people[9]  into prostitution: a relationship with someone involved in prostitution; homelessness, often due to estrangement or rejection by family; drug abuse; or solicitation by an adult. American youth are the most vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking in the United States.[10]Research shows that homeless or runaway youth are approached for sex within 48 hours of becoming homeless.[11] Due to their vulnerability, children are an easy target for traffickers.

Like sex trafficking, labor trafficking is a human rights abuse. According to the Polaris Project, labor trafficking often occurs in the areas of agricultural work, domestic servitude, and restaurants. Polaris Project also notes that “[y]oung adults and teenagers with few opportunities for work are recruited into traveling sales crews with a promise of travel, meeting interesting people and enjoyable, outdoor work. Many sales crews impose quotas for the sale of goods, whether magazines, candy, cleaning supplies or other items. Crew members are paid on commission or promised a wage that is rarely provided, with crew leaders deducting expenses for motel rooms, fast food and transportation. Crew leaders can be verbally, physicallym and sexually abusive, and use the threat of abandoning members penniless in unknown cities as coercion to keep members working. These crews operate throughout the United States.” A related predatory industry involves peddling and begging rings, which sometimes front as youth leadership development programs. As Congress considers the vulnerability of children to sex trafficking in the foster care, child welfare, and child protection systems, it has the opportunity to collect data to better understand children’s vulnerability to labor trafficking as well.[12]

“Public Policy Must Recognize Victims of Sex Trafficking as Crime Victims, Not as Perpetrators, to Avoid Revictimization and Unintended Consequences of Victim Identification

“The identification of victims of sex trafficking is essential to providing them with needed services and support, but victim identification that leads either to criminal prosecution of the victim herself on prostitution charges or to identification of the victim but no access to services because of inadequate resources harms the victim. In many states, sex trafficked youth may be adjudicated as delinquents for the crime of engaging in prostitution. Congress should be careful to avoid requiring the identification of victims if that will result in the prosecution of those victims. Congress should also ensure that adequate funding is available to provide services to those victims.

“In 2010, Minnesota began focusing attention on developing an appropriate legal response to sexually exploited children and children at risk of sexual exploitation. That initiative resulted in the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act, passed in 2011 and amended in 2013, which includes the decriminalization of children under 18 who are engaged in prostitution; the inclusion of “sexually exploited youth” in the definition of children in need of protection or services; and the creation of a victim-centered response system that defines successful intervention in terms of the health and wellbeing of the child.

“Until Safe Harbor, Minnesota’s legal response to sexually exploited children reflected a widely-held, longstanding ambivalence about prostitution. On the one hand, Minnesota treated the crime of engaging in prostitution with a minor as a serious crime.  On the other, minors who “engage in prostitution” were considered to be juvenile delinquents and understood to be “prostitutes” who are willing participants in consensual transactions.

“This ambivalence led to the failure of existing systems, including delinquency and child welfare and protection, to effectively address trafficking on a system-wide basis. Two factors contributed to these failures. First, public policy failed to recognize sexually exploited children as the victims of crime, instead seeing them as the perpetrators of prostitution offenses.

“Second, policy makers consistently failed to provide the necessary financial support to child welfare systems to effectively intervene and help sexually exploited youth return to a healthy and productive path. A more effective response is realized when society, policy makers, and systems personnel intervening with children recognize that the prostitution of children is a predatory and violent crime, and that evidence-based, victim-centered, culturally appropriate intervention has been demonstrated to help youth rebuild their lives.

“Effective identification of crime victims. The 2011 Safe Harbor Act required that Minnesota develop a statewide response to sex trafficked youth to replace the juvenile delinquency approach. In the course of developing Minnesota’s victim-services model, a statewide expert working group was convened by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Minnesota Department of Health, and Minnesota Department of Human Services to create a new model for effectively responding to sexually exploited youth. The Safe Harbor working group enumerated the various ways in which children may be identified as in need of protection or services.

“In some cases the victim may be identified while law enforcement is in the process of a trafficking investigation. In such cases, police must understand that the children involved in prostitution are not themselves committing a crime but are, in fact, the victims of the crime of sex trafficking. Law enforcement must also have simple screening tools available to identify trafficking victims. When law enforcement responds appropriately, their experience indicates that the victims are more likely to cooperate in the prosecution of the traffickers.

“In some cases, however, a victim may already be involved in the child welfare, child protection, or delinquency systems for other, often related, reasons. Like law enforcement, systems personnel must be equipped through training and protocols to ask the right questions and look for the right indicators to identify a victim of sex trafficking in these situations.

“In other cases, a victim may be continuing to be engaged in prostitution and still seeking other services, such as medical care or other help. Service providers therefore must also be equipped with the skills needed to identify and make appropriate referrals for services and intervention.

“Dedication of sufficient resources for crime victims. Effective victim identification and the provision of services require more than training and protocols. It requires that there are sufficient, appropriate, and effective resources for the child who is identified.

“In its 2008 Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota (2008 Needs Assessment), The Advocates identified several key recommendations to strengthen victim safety.  The Advocates found that trafficked persons need greater access to services tailored to meet their specific needs, that Minnesota law should prioritize the protection of trafficked persons over their arrest and prosecution, and that professionals who respond to sex trafficking need effective protocols for victim identification and referral mechanisms.

“The sexual violence, manipulation, and torture children suffer at the hands of pimps and buyers results in devastating mental and physical trauma. Children often suffer from substance abuse, sexually-transmitted infections, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, isolation, suicidal ideation, and self-mutilation.  Trauma-bonding with traffickers – the “Stockholm syndrome” – also complicates the child’s rescue and recovery.

“Minnesota’s historical experience illustrates that scarce child protection resources built to intervene in familial child abuse situations have failed to address the complicated issues that arise from trafficking. In many ways, ambivalence in the legal system and in societal attitudes toward prostituted children contributed to this failure: the children were simultaneously victims of the crime of prostitution of a child, children in need of protection and services because they were engaged in prostitution, and juvenile delinquents because they were engaged in prostitution. As a result of this ambivalence, and as a means to manage already limited resources, these youth often were seen by counties as outside of their child protection mandate, leaving the children at best with the resources available through the juvenile delinquency systems and at worst without any resources at all.

“An effective government response to sexually exploited youth requires resources. Typically trafficking victims are older youth, not small children. Due to the dynamics of many sex trafficking situations where family members or close contacts are involved in the exploitation, family reunification may not be the appropriate permanent solution and instead the youth may need resources to help them move to independent living. Medical and mental health services may be needed as a result of the trauma of repeated, daily rape. Most challenging, the victim may identify with and protect her trafficker as a result of the complex, dependent relationship that traffickers intentionally create with their victims.

“While Minnesota’s Safe Harbor 2011 did not outline specific services for sex trafficked children, it did direct the state of Minnesota to engage stakeholders in creating a model for the law’s implementation, including identifying needed services. The Safe Harbor Working Group adopted the vision that no matter where a sexually exploited youth or a youth at risk of sexual exploitation seeks help – no matter which door she knocks on – she will be met with an effective victim-centered response. This vision became known to the Working Group participants as the No Wrong Door model.[13] Although the No Wrong Door model leaves many issues, such as provisions regarding confidentiality, to future implementation, it does lay the groundwork for meeting Minnesota’s obligation to provide access to services for trafficked children.

“The Working Group’s core values included recognition that trauma-informed, individually-responsive care, combined with prevention strategies and effective victim identification, is the most appropriate response to sexually exploited youth. Research has shown that the upfront commitment to preventing and protecting youth from trafficking is a worthwhile investment for Minnesota. In 2012, alongside the work of the Safe Harbor Working Group, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center undertook research, conducted by Lauren Martin and Lauren Stark of the University of Minnesota and economist Richard Lotspeich of Indiana State University. The research focused on the financial benefits and costs of early intervention to prevent sex trading and trafficking of adolescent females. The researchers analyzed the projected impact on the public budget by Safe Harbor. The research indicates that for every $1 of public cost, early intervention yields $34 in benefit.[14]

“The Safe Harbor Working Group also identified as a core value the need to be responsive to the needs of individual youth and to make services available to all youth, regardless of that youth’s own characteristics or whether the youth is involved in the child welfare system. The Working Group also sought to ensure that the model it created was open and accessible to all victims without discrimination. Creating a system with the flexibility and expertise to provide services that “gender-responsive, culturally competent, age-appropriate and supportive for youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning”[15] was a priority.

“The Working Group recognized several basic model assumptions. Among them is that Minnesota’s model for implementing Safe Harbor will rely on existing assets and strengths and that duplication of resources must be avoided. Minnesota has developed many resources and best practices that are relevant and useful to responding to sexually exploited youth. For example, Minnesota long has led the world in developing innovative responses to domestic violence. In recent years, that system has seen significant cuts in resources resulting in shelter and program closure. Minnesota also has sophisticated sexual assault nurse examiner and sexual assault response team systems, which also have faced significant funding cuts. Finally, Minnesota is at the cusp of addressing longstanding systemic resource deficiencies for shelter and services for homeless youth, which long have been underfunded despite dramatic need.

“The Safe Harbor Working Group recognized that funds for domestic violence, sexual assault, and homeless youth shelter and services are vital to providing for the needs of Minnesota’s sexually exploited youth without creating costly bureaucracy and infrastructure. Support for existing programs must be maintained and strengthened, while at the same time making available to those and other programs funding specific to meeting the need for housing and services for sexually exploited youth.  Rather than develop a duplicative infrastructure, the Safe Harbor Working Group sought to build on these existing resources. The resource needs identified by the Safe Harbor Working Group rely on the full funding of existing services and shelter for sexually exploited youth in Minnesota through appropriations.

“One Minnesota initiative shows real promise for effective intervention. The Ramsey County Runaway Intervention Project[16] shows that victim-centered intervention far surpassed delinquency adjudications in achieving positive outcomes. The Runaway Intervention Project was created by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, responding to concerns raised by the Saint Paul Public Schools. They identified that the revolving door of juvenile delinquency adjudications for girls exploited through prostitution was not working and  they were convinced that victim-centered intervention could work to get these girls off the prostitution track. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office worked with the Midwest Children’s Resource Center, the local children’s advocacy center, and with SOS-Ramsey County, the local sexual assault victim services organization. Together they designed a victim-centered intervention program where success was measured by improved outcomes for the youth. The Runaway Intervention Project addresses the needs of both sexually exploited girls and girls at risk of sexual exploitation.

“The Runaway Intervention Project’s documented results have been remarkable.[17] Professor Elizabeth Saewyc of the University of British Columbia, who has documented the impact of the Runaway Intervention Project, reports that girls completing the program “have shown dramatic improvement in healthy sexual behaviors, increased connectedness with family and school, higher self-esteem, improved mental health, and reduced drug use. Participants have gotten back on healthy development tracks, almost, statistically, as if they had not been abused.”[18]


“While victim identification and resources for victims is crucial to an effective government response, policy makers must recognize that sex trafficking is a demand-driven crime. Legal responses must hold accountable the perpetrators of sex trafficking, including those who promote and organize trafficking and those who purchase sex from trafficked persons. Public policy must also include measures to eliminate the tolerance and normalization of prostitution.”

[1] MN Stat. 609.321, subd. 7b (2012).

[2] See Martin, Lauren, Richard Lotspeich, and Lauren Stark, Early Intervention to Avoid Sex Trading and Trafficking of Minnesota’s Female Youth: A Benefit-Cost Analysis (2012), p. 23.

[3] See Birckhead, T.R. (2011). The “Youngest Profession”: Consent, Autonomy, Prostituted Children, 88 Wash. L. Rev. 5, cited in MN Department of Public Safety, Office of Justice Programs, No Wrong Door: A Comprehensive Approach to Safe Harbor for Minnesota’s Sexually Exploited Youth, p. 6.

[4] “Homeless Youth in Minnesota,” Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, available at (last accessed Feb. 5, 2013) (note that this study defines “youth” to include anyone under age 21).

[5] Kotrla, K. (2010). Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in the United States. Social Work, 55(2): 181-7.

[6] National Runaway Switchboard website at, Accessed on 2/6/11.

[7] R.J. Estes, Ph.D., and N. A. Weiner, Ph.D. Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S. Canada and Mexico. 2001. (last visited Feb. 6, 2013) (noting the average age of entry into sex trafficking/prostitution as 12-14 years old). Current service providers in Minnesota, including Breaking Free and Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, confirm this statistic, and report that they are now seeing that the average age of entry is between 11 and 14 years old based on the clients they serve.

[8] Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Report 09-08: The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Efforts to Combat Crimes Against Children, Ch. 4, Jan. 2009, available at

[9] The term “young people” refers to individuals up to age 21. See Trudee Able-Peterson & Richard A. Hooks Wyman. StreetWorks: Best Practices and Standards in Outreach Methodology to Homeless Youth. 2006. (Discussion of working with young people engaging in survival sex), pages 113-14 (citing C. Zierman. Pathways Into Prostitution: Report To Project Offstreets. 1998).

[10] Playground. Film clip. Directed by Libby Spears. Produced by Martha Adams et al. Los Angeles, CA: The Nest Foundation, 2011.

[11] The State of Minnesota, Office of the Attorney General. The Hofstede Committee Report: Juvenile Prostitution in Minnesota. 1999. (last visited April 1, 2011).

[12] While Minnesota law criminalizes labor trafficking, the state has less experience in building a systemic response to that problem.

[13] This inspired the title of the Department of Public Safety’s report to the legislature: Department of Public Safety, Office of Justice Programs, No Wrong Door: A Comprehensive Approach to Safe Harbor for Minnesota’s Sexually Exploited Youth, Jan. 2013.

[14] Lauren Martin, Richard Lotspeich, and Lauren Stark, Early Intervention to Avoid Sex Trading and Trafficking of Minnesota’s Female Youth: A Benefit-Cost Analysis (2012), p. vi, 3.

[15] MN Department of Public Safety, Office of Justice Programs, No Wrong Door: A Comprehensive Approach to Safe Harbor for Minnesota’s Sexually Exploited Youth, Jan. 2013, at 8.

[16] H.F. 4162, art. 13, sec. 4, subd. 4(b) (2006) (Authorizing legislation referred to the project as the Safe Harbor for Youth Intervention Project).

[17] Early Intervention to Avoid Sex Trading and Trafficking of Minnesota’s Female Youth: A Benefit-Cost Analysis, a report by Lauren Martin, Richard Lotspeich, and Lauren Stark (2012), p. 52, provides an excellent overview of the Runaway Intervention Project.

“Congress, Restore American Values to Broken Immigration System”

Press conference 10.21
The Advocate’s Michele Garnett McKenzie, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison at October 21 press conference.

U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, and The Advocates for Human Rights’ Michele Garnett McKenzie, together with John Keller, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and leaders from Minnesota’s immigrant community held a press conference this morning, urging U.S. Congress to take action now to repair our nation’s immigration system.

In her statement at the conference, Garnett McKenzie said:

“America is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are born equal and that we all have rights, no matter who we are or where we were born.

“But today’s immigration polices fail to uphold our American values. Instead, US immigration law is a crazy quilt of statutes, regulations, policies, and practices that separates families, allows exploitation to flourish, lets refugees fall through the cracks, makes a mockery of our notion of a fair day in court, and jails people without basic safeguards against arbitrary or inhumane detention.

“Just one example of how far our immigration policies have departed from our values: Today Congress requires that Immigration and Customs Enforcement detain 34,000 people each day. The mandate comes at a huge cost – reportedly nearly $400 million more than the agency’s own appropriations request.

“But the cost of the heads-in-beds mandate to the American people can be measured in more than dollars. It can be measured in the two years lost to The Advocates’ client Dolores.

“Dolores fled to the United States seeking asylum from Honduras. She was deported almost immediately, but returned a year later in another attempt to flee. Once here, a police officer stopped the car in which Dolores was a passenger, asked for identification, and when she presented her passport called Customs & Border Protection officers to interpret. Dolores pled with authorities not to send her back to Honduras because of the abuse she suffered. She remained in ICE custody hundreds of miles away from her family for 22 months while pursuing her asylum claim. Even though local ICE officials recommended her release, ICE headquarters ordered she stay in jail. Dolores ultimately was released, not because it was the right thing to do, but because of sequestration budget cuts.

“Dolores’ experience is not unique. Our immigration laws fail to protect the human rights of millions of people like her every day. When we arbitrarily deprive people of their liberty, separate them from their families, and fail to listen to pleas for protection, we do more than violate their human rights; we betray the values that make us Americans.

“Bills are pending in Congress that will set us on the path to restoring America’s promise to stand as a beacon of liberty and justice for all.”

“Congress must act now to bring HR 15 to a vote and to move the reform of our broken immigration laws forward. America deserves a commonsense immigration system that moves us forward together while upholding our most deeply held values of due process and fair treatment under the law.

“The time is now for Congress to take action.”

By: Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates’ director of communication

Honoring Kanchi and the Millions of People Like Her

Kanchi at her graduation from 8th grade
Kanchi at her graduation from 8th grade

What could be more fitting than to share a poem written by Kanchi on this day, the United Nation’s International Day for Eradication of Poverty. Kanchi was the first girl to graduate from the Sankhu-Palubari Community School, in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley. Supported by The Advocates, the school educates some of the world’s most disadvantaged kids to prevent them from being sucked into child labor.

Kanchi was six years old in 1999, when the school opened its doors. Now a young woman, she plans to study agriculture in college, and hopes to bring organic farming techniques back to her village. “I want to live a healthy life, and give a healthy life to others,” she said.

Kanchi’s Poem

When I was born in small hut,
i’d be a heavy load,
i’d be a heavy load,

Anyhow i have to accept all the things
which were asked by father & mother
because i’m a daughter,
because i’m a daughter.

Father & Mother always used to say
that i don’t have any right to read & write
because 1 day i have to leave birth place &
i have to be someone’s wife,
i have to be someone’s wife.

They says that i cannot do anything in my life because
my life is like an egg which can
Creak at any time if it falls,
Which never be join back,
which never be join back.

They say that to do household work,
that’s my big property &
during the time of my marriage
when i get more dowry,
during the time of my marriage
when i get more dowry.

These heart pinches words
collided in my ear,
my heart nearly go to burst,
my heart nearly go to burst.

At that time my 1 heart says
that u have to leave this selfish world.
But another heart says that don’t get tired
to achieve goal u have to struggle more,
u have to struggle more.

Kanchi was one of 39  students in Sankhu-Palubari Community School’s first kindergarten class. To get to school, she had to walk 1-1/2 hours each way. There were other obstacles along the way, too.  At various times, her parents wanted her to stop school and help them with farming.  But she stayed in school and worked hard.  ”I want to do something different from the others,” she told them. She stayed in school and was one of only two girls in the first class to graduate from eighth grade.  Kanchi continued on to high school, and completed twelfth grade at Siddhartha College of Banepa in 2012.

In many ways, the story of Kanchi reflects the experience of girls in many countries.  All over the world, girls are denied equal access to education, forced into child labor, married off at a young age, and pressured to drop out of school because of their gender.

There are many good reasons to ensure access to education for girls like Kanchi. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development.

“If we are to realize the future we want for all, we must hear and heed the calls of the marginalized,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Together, we can build a sustainable world of prosperity and peace, justice and equity – a life of dignity for all.”

Read more about Kanchi in Jennifer Prestholdt’s October 10, 2012 blog post. Prestholdt is The Advocates’ deputy director and director of the organization’s International Justice Program.

By: Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates’ communication director