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Safe Harbor Protocol Guidelines

In 2014, the Safe Harbor law went into full effect, marking a significant shift in how the State of Minnesota addresses the sexual exploitation of youth. Under the law, originally enacted in 2011, youth under the age of 18 subjected to exploitation are directed to support and services rather than a juvenile justice response. A steadily growing infrastructure of services – specifically, the “No Wrong Door” system developed from 2011-2014 – provides support, healing, and care. Law enforcement and other resources have been redeployed toward holding exploiters, not victims/survivors, accountable. And professionals and communities alike are looking at the societal factors that fuel exploitation, as well as how to prevent it.

Although the Safe Harbor response ends criminalization of youth under the age of 18, its services are available to youth and young adults through age 24. There is also growing interest in seeking options for victims/ survivors outside of the criminal justice system, no matter their age.

A truly effective response by professionals to juvenile sexual exploitation must be built at the local level, with agencies from the government and community-based sectors working together to develop multidisciplinary protocols. These protocols will vary greatly by community, based on the resources available, the make-up of the local population, and the most pressing challenges. Still, those developing individual protocol need best practices to draw upon. Moreover, sexual exploitation will not wait for individual community protocols; professionals need guidance in how to identify and respond to sexual exploitation while the protocol development process is underway.

The Safe Harbor Protocol Guidelines are intended to meet both of these needs—that of individual communities seeking best practices and recommendations to draw upon during the protocol-development process, as well as that of professionals and agencies requiring guidance on how to address sexual exploitation in the absence of their own community protocols.

The Protocol Guidelines consist of recommendations, insights, and resources to support professionals from a variety of disciplines in identifying and responding to juvenile sexual exploitation. They were originally developed and published in 2017 with the input of over 200 professionals from a wide variety of disciplines including the judiciary, education, law enforcement, child protection, health care, juvenile corrections, advocacy, and more. This second edition provides updates, including new information on responding to labor trafficking and exploitation, as well as fully revised chapters on emergency placement and child welfare. It continues to draw upon the expertise of many professionals to ensure the information is accurate, insightful, and helpful for this ongoing and critical work.

The Protocol Guidelines include:

  • Eight “foundational” chapters intended to establish a base level of knowledge among professionals about crucial topics that cross disciplines, such as the dynamics of exploitation and working with victims/survivors in a trauma-informed, victimcentered, culturally-responsive and strengths-based way.
  • Sixteen discipline-specific chapters providing both (1) guidance to professionals from the particular discipline, as well as (2) insight about the particular discipline for professionals from other disciplines.
  • Four “next steps” chapters, written by the Sexual Violence Justice Institute at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (SVJI at MNCASA), to help individual communities begin the process of developing and implementing their own protocol on juvenile sexual exploitation. This information is based on SVJI at MNCASA’s experience working with specific Safe Harbor protocol teams to address the sexual exploitation of youth in six locations statewide.


Development of the Protocol Guidelines from 2015 to 2017 was led by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office (RCAO), in partnership with SVJI at MNCASA, pursuant to an appropriation from the State of Minnesota.The 2020 update was developed by SVJI at MNCASA and the RCAO through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health using appropriations to the Safe Harbor program from the State of Minnesota.


Trafficking Advocates, Responders to Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault Response Teams Minnesota

Last modified: 7/7/2022