Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
According to the definition from the Minnesota Department of Health, sexual exploitation occurs when anything of value or a promise of anything of value (e.g., money, drugs, food, shelter, rent, or higher status in a gang or group) is given to a person by any means in exchange for any type of sexual activity. Commercial sexual exploitation includes pornography, prostitution, stripping/exotic dance, and any other exchange of sexual services for financial or material gain. Commercial sexual exploitation may involve sexual trafficking. Women and girls are most often exploited, but male and transgender individuals are also exploited. Statistics are difficult to ascertain, given the underground and criminal nature of the exploitation, but research and observation confirm that internet access to, and use of pornography has exploded, especially among males, and sex-oriented entertainment remains a thriving industry. In every community across the country, pornography is the most prominent sex educator for young people. As a result, generations of youth understand sexuality to be linked with violence, degradation, and exploitation—particularly toward women and girls. Demand for people used in stripping and prostitution remains normalized across the country, with many people associating commercial sexual exploitation with a rite of passage and a normal way to have fun and bond with friends. Various government agencies, law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations offer a range of statistics that document the negative effects of commercial sexual exploitation.
Current efforts to combat commercial sexual exploitation in Minnesota include Minnesota’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Law, passed in 2011. Minnesota was the seventh state in the U.S. to pass a Safe Harbor Law, which was designed to ensure that youth who are sexually exploited or at risk of exploitation are treated as victims under Minnesota law. The legislation also ensures that those who purchase children, youth or young adults for sex, are held accountable and that there is a system of response in place to move victims of sexual exploitation to recovery and healing. The law was expanded in 2016, to include eligibility for housing and services for at-risk and exploited youth up to age 24.
The Exploitation of Native Women
Another area of concern in Minnesota is the trafficking and exploitation of Native American women and girls. Numerous studies provide evidence that Native American women and girls experience greater risk factors for being sexually exploited and are over represented among trafficking victims across the state. More detailed findings are included in the 2011 report, Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.
Among all exploited populations, the need to reduce demand for commercial sexual exploitation is clear as the costs to individuals and communities are many. Law enforcement needs funding to train and dedicate officers to combat sex trafficking in Minnesota and across the nation. Existing adult entertainment zoning enforcement also needs attention, as do policies for charging and penalizing purchasers of commercial sex. Finally, as arrests have increased for commercial sexual exploitation, “John School” interventions have emerged in multiple communities across the nation to provide educational programming to help prevent further participation in CSE. While these interventions are crucial, prevention of sexual exploitation in any form is a priority.
Each of these interventions is critical to effectively addressing commercial sexual exploitation. However, what is missing in Minnesota and across the country, is a primary prevention strategy focused on reshaping the “normal” culture that allows commercial sexual exploitation to thrive. This requires strategic messaging, educational resources, and organizing focused predominately on the conditions that make it acceptable for a majority of men to remain silent, if not actively participate in, commercial sexual exploitation. Minnesota needs communities to rally around clear messages that degrading people and utilizing them as sexual objects is harmful and unacceptable. We need men who have never purchased people who are prostituted to talk with other men and boys in their community. We need community groups to actively work to reduce the normalization of CSE in their communities. It’s time for communities to rally around clear messages and resources: Don’t Buy It: People are More Than Products: Men Are More Than Consumers.