New state law stiffens penalties for soliciting a juvenile for prostitution

A new law going into effect Aug. 1 makes it a felony to solicit anyone “reasonably” believed to be under the age of 18 for prostitution.

City leaders advocated for the law as another tool to fight juvenile sex trafficking, said City Attorney Susan Segal.

The law carries a penalty of a sentence up to five years and a fine up to $10,000, she said. Previously, offenders would be charged with a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor if they solicited a 16 or 17 year olds for sex, which carried a maximum sentence of 90 days or one year in jail, respectively.

The law also allows police to conduct undercover sting operations and pose as underage victims in online ads and via text messages. Previously it has been challenging for police to go after offenders in sting operations if the victim was older than 15, Segal said.

The Minneapolis Police Department has two full-time investigators devoted solely to juvenile sex trafficking cases and has been working on a number of other fronts in recent years to fight the problem.

On the federal level, President Barack Obama signed legislation May 29 sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, that defines minors sold for sex as victims rather than defendants — a provision modeled after Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act also uses federal funds and fines collected from sex traffickers to pay for services to help victims of sex trafficking.

“By encouraging other states to adopt Minnesota’s Safe Harbor model, this new law will give prosecutors additional tools to go after sex traffickers and help make sure that victims of sex trafficking are supported, not thrown behind bars,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “On average, girls first become victims of sex trafficking at 13 years old. This bill will help ensure that more of our young girls are able to go to school, play with their friends, and make plans for their future — rather than being sold for sex.”