MN study says teens at risk of being 'sexploited'

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At least 5,000 high school teens have been affected by sexual exploitation according to Minnesota's first estimates.

It's referred to as "sexploitation," which means trading sexual acts or photos to get things like money, food, drugs, alcohol, or a place to stay.

The scary thing is, it's not confined to big cities. It's happening right here in Fargo-Moorhead.

"All of me and my colleagues are seeing it in our practices," said child therapist, Shauna Erickson who works at the Village Family Service Center in Moorhead and said she sees sexploitation cases every day.

"Teens aren't maybe recognizing what this is gonna do emotionally to them but are also kind of trying to gain power and status in more materialistic ways," she added.


Minnesota's Department of Health added a new question to their Student Survey — asking 9th and 11th graders if they traded sex for something of value. 1.4% said yes.

"The word epidemic seems severe, but I think the sexting piece of what's happening in our junior highs and high schools is beginning to normalize this really unhealthy behavior," said Erickson.

So what can be done to stop it? Erickson says it's imperative to monitor your child's phone use.

"I can't emphasize enough staying on top of what's going on on TikTok, on Snapchat, on Instagram, and the social media apps that I can't stay up to date with and I'm working with teenagers every single day," Erickson said.

She also says parents need to talk with their children about topics like sex and self-worth. It might be uncomfortable, but Erickson says it's necessary.

"When we've got a kid that can really assertively say no I know my body's worth and what is and isn't safe, we can stand up to these things," she added.

The Department of Health says these results could be under-reported, because the study only went to teens in school and some could be too afraid to answer honestly.

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