January 27, 2012; Source: The Star Tribune | The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota’s new program, “Minnesota Girls Are Not For Sale,” is the first effort of its kind in Minnesota, and according to the Star Tribune, it marks another step in the state’s “becoming a national model for combating the teen sex trade.”

As the convener of the five-year, $4 million campaign, the Women’s Foundation aims to enhance financial and research support for the nonprofit community and to mobilize Minnesota residents with the information that the problem of sex trafficking is pervasive but also preventable. The Star Tribune notes that the Minnesota campaign is the result of both formal and informal reports of the spread of trafficking beginning in 2010.

“We first heard about the problem from some of our youth [program] grantees who were seeing an uptick in this,” Lee Roper-Batker, foundation CEO, told the Star Tribune. The foundation reinforces this assessment on its Web site with the FBI’s statistic that the Twin Cities are the country’s thirteenth-largest center for child prostitution and the 2010 finding that “at least 213 girls are sold for sex an average of five times per day through the Internet and escort services” in Minnesota.

For broader context on the issue, the foundation points to a New York-based nonprofit, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), as an example of current work supporting girls and young women who are trafficking victims (New York has had statewide anti-sex trafficking programs in place for years).

Along with their current work providing support to trafficking victims, Minnesota grant recipients will also take on enhanced advocacy roles with police, court officials and state legislators. Nonprofit partners include Breaking Free, the American Indian Community Housing Organization, and the Family Partnership.

“I feel like we’re in the same place with trafficking as we were with domestic violence 30 years ago in terms of building awareness, services and the right policies,” Roper-Batker told the Star Tribune. –Anne Eigeman