It’s hard not to notice 14-year old, Jasmine. With a winning smile and a personality to match, she lights up a room.
Like other girls her age, Jasmine enjoys clothes, boys, and adventure. She loves hanging out with friends and dislikes the restrictions her Mother tries to impose upon her.
Jasmine works at keeping things fun. In a group of friends, she doesn’t have to think about what’s happening at home.
For the past three years, Jasmine’s Mom has struggled with addiction. In and out of treatment, her Mom has been unable to stay employed. Jasmine and her two siblings have bounced around from apartment to apartment, and now are doubled up with relatives.
No one’s paying much attention to Jasmine. Hurt, lonely, and longing for stability, Jasmine runs away, taking refuge at a “friend’s” apartment. The “friend” is charismatic, good-looking 19 year-old Jay. Jasmine always felt important when Jay complimented her on her good looks. Jay treated Jasmine like an adult and she felt a thrill when she was able to command his attention.
Jasmine stayed for a few days at Jay’s, where she was treated royally. She returned home but continued to seek Jay out. Soon, she was bragging to her friends that she had a new boyfriend. She belonged to someone important.
A few months into their relationship, Jay began testing Jasmine. First, she asked her to dance at a private party. Jasmine was a good dancer and she didn’t want to disappoint Jay. She convinced herself that the dancing was no big deal.
The dancing was a big deal. It marked a change in Jasmine and Jay’s relationship. Jay began to demand more of Jasmine. When she tried to refuse, Jay countered with violence and threats.
How many girls like Jasmine seek attention and love while underestimating risks to their personal safety and well-being? When does a bad situation become life-altering?
In Minnesota, the average age at which a girl commercially trafficked for sex al sex is thirteen. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota reports that each month in Minnesota 214 girls are trafficked several times a day through the internet and backpages.com.
Identifying children on the cusp of commercial exploitation is critical to prevention, yet it’s difficult.
“There are a lot of stories that kids want to keep hidden,” said David Mathews, Director of Clinical Programs at The Bridge for Youth. ” Creating a safe environment for kids and building trust are essential to helping young victims.”
In January 2014, a new Minnesota law, decriminalizing prostitution for children 16 and under, went into effect. Instead of treating these minors as criminals and taking them to jail, law enforcement now sees these youth as victims. They are more likely to be returned home or brought to a place like The Bridge for Youth, a therapeutic shelter just for children ages 10-17.
With the onset of the Safe Harbors Act, David Mathews and his team at The Bridge for Youth developed a new intake procedures to help identify youth at-risk for or engaged in commercial exploitation. Teams have also developed new counseling approaches to help with intervention and healing for this target population.
One such approach, Restorative Parenting, aims to re-engage parents with their children despite the presence of significant emotional trauma. “It’s never too late for a parent to re-build a connection with their child, even in the face of something like violence, sexual abuse, or sex trafficking.
For additional information, attend The Bridge for Youth’s educational forum, “Youth Sex Trafficking: Who is at risk? Where does it start?” on Tuesday, March 18 from 2:00 -4:00 p.m. at Temple Israel.