Survey: 5,000 Minnesota teens have traded sex for money, drugs, alcohol or a place to stay

A new study estimates at least 5,000 high school-age youth in Minnesota have traded sex for money, food, drugs, alcohol, a place to stay or something else of value. 

The state Departments of Education, Health, Human Service and Public Safety administer the Minnesota Student Survey every three years to 9th and 11th grade students across Minnesota. In 2019, 81 percent of public school districts participated. 

Researchers added a new question to the 2019 survey asking students whether they had traded sex for something of value. Based on the state’s youth population and the 1.4 percent of students who responded yes to the question in the survey—researchers estimated 5,000 of the state’s youth have experienced sexual exploitation. 

The study found youth sexual exploitation is happening across the state to youth of all gender identities and races. The study also found boys and girls are evenly impacted. 

Youth in juvenile correctional facilities, foster care and unstable housing all reported higher levels of sexual exploitation, according to the survey results. 

Researchers say the survey likely underestimates the number of exploited youth because of possible student reluctance to answer “yes” to the survey question. The survey also only counts youth who attend school and who were at school on the day officials administered the survey. Youth who are not in school are more likely to face sexual exploitation. 

Researchers say identifying youth who are at risk of trading sex can help school nurses, social workers and teachers intervene and offer those youth services and support. 

If you or someone you know has been sexually exploited or taken advantage of, help is available. Minnesota’s Safe Harbor program is a multi-agency statewide initiative that works to give young people the tools they need, such as housing, education and support from trusted adults, to leave sexual exploitation and human trafficking. MDH recommends visiting the Safe Harbor Minnesota website or calling the Day One Hotline at 1-866-223-1111.