MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - A new study from the University of Minnesota finds that at least 5,000 Minnesota youth have traded sex for food, money, alcohol, drugs, a place to stay or anything else of value.
The data comes after the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey included the question for the first time.
The state conducts the voluntary survey of ninth and 11th graders in Minnesota every three years.
Eighty-one percent of public school districts took last year’s survey, and about 71,000 ninth and 11th graders were asked if they had traded sex for something of value.
Around 1.4 percent said yes.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing who conducted the analysis concluded more than 5,000 kids statewide have likely traded sex for something of value based on the state’s youth population combined with results from the question.
Still, according to University of Minnesota School of Nursing Associate Professor Lauren Martin, that number is still likely an underestimate.
“Lots of young people who are more likely to trade sex are less likely to be in school and therefore less likely to take the Minnesota Student Survey," she said.
The analysis looked at categories such as gender identity, race and ethnicity and relevant experiences.
For example, cisgender boys and girls were almost evenly impacted, and 5.9 percent of transgender students reported trading sex.
Survey results conclude that 3.1 percent of American Indian and Native students also reported doing so.
Data was also broken down by Safe Harbor regions.
Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Law ensures young people who are sexually exploited are treated as victims and survivors.
Among those in the southwest region, 1.3 percent answered yes.
That percentage is the same for those in the southeast and west central region as well.
Solutions include having ongoing discussions in schools and working to connect students with the appropriate resources.
Mankato Area Public Schools (MAPS) Social Worker Rachel McNamara said it’s important to build trust with students.
“Sometimes there’s no signs, and so it goes back to really building that relationship but getting that information out there so students are aware. Building trust and creating a safe space is number one and just building a rapport with our youth in our district so that they feel safe," she said.
The university said next steps include connecting with communities across the state.
There are several different resources available.
If you or someone you know is sexually exploited or taken advantage of, visit the Safe Harbor Minnesota page on the Minnesota Department of Health website.
You may also call the Day One Hotline at 1-866-223-1111.
The Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and REACH Drop-in Center provides case management for survivors of exploitation and trafficking to youth of all genders aged 12-24, including home visiting, transportation and referrals to partnering agencies.
Not a Number teaches youth how to protect themselves from human trafficking and exploitation.
MAPS also works with several different school and community resources, such as school-based community health services and mental health support services teams comprised of school social workers, counselors and psychologists.