Minnesota House of Representatives


State Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein

303 State Office BuildingState Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

For more information contact: DJ Danielson 651-296-8879

Posted: 2018-01-29
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News Release

RELEASE: Inspired by local high schoolers with support of a Vikings legend, Kunesh-Podein co-authors sexual exploitation prevention bill

ST. PAUL – Ahead of the Super Bowl in Minneapolis this coming Sunday, lawmakers today announced plans for bipartisan legislation to prevent sex trafficking in Minnesota. The bill, co-authored by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL – New Brighton), enhances current child sexual abuse prevention curriculum in public schools to include sexual exploitation prevention.

“As a teacher, it’s horrifying to know that 13 is the average age for a young woman to first fall victim to trafficking, and they are more likely to be people of color or from LGBTQ communities,” said Rep. Kunesh-Podein who joined a bipartisan group of legislators at a Capitol news conference Monday unveiling the bill. “While we have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us to decrease demand for commercial sex, and increase services such as housing and counseling to survivors of this awful exploitation, properly educating kids about it is also crucial toward protecting them.”

Legislators were approached with the idea of the legislation by Jessica Melnik, a junior from Hopkins High School and Founder of Girls United MN, after she and her friends observed one of their classmates being trafficked. She also worked closely with Beth Holger-Ambrose, Executive Director of The Link, to find a way to address the crisis of sex trafficking in our schools.

“Thank you to Jessica and to Girls United for sharing their stories, their leadership and determination to address these situations, for building a movement and taking it to the state legislature,” Rep. Kunesh-Podein said.

In recent years, law enforcement agencies have placed an increased focus on sex trafficking in cities where the Super Bowl and other large public events occur. Research has shown that cities hosting such events see a temporary spike in this activity, including the number of online advertisements for sex.

The Link was founded in 1991 by Minnesota Vikings greats Jim Marshall and Oscar Reed. It provides, among other programs, housing and supportive services for youth who have been sexually exploited, supporting nearly 3,000 youth and young families each year. In advance of the Super Bowl, Marshall lent his voice in support of the Girls United effort.

“It’s important to protect youth in our communities and give them the tools they need to develop into strong, resilient adults,” said Marshall, a member of the Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters” defensive line. “The education provided for in this legislation is one such tool. Sexual exploitation is a growing pitfall for our youth and I’m extremely proud of Ms. Melnik and her peers for showing the initiative to propose quality solutions.”

The bill, already with bipartisan co-authorship in both the House and Senate, will be officially introduced when the legislative session convenes on February 20, when it will likely be referred to the Education Innovation Policy Committee for consideration.

Rep. Kunesh-Podein represents all or part of New Brighton, Columbia Heights. St. Anthony and Hilltop. She encourages constituents to contact her with any comments, questions, concerns, or ideas on any legislative topic. Rep. Kunesh-Podein can be reached by phone at 651-296-4331 or by email at rep.mary.kuneshpodein@house.mn. She also encourages community members to sign up for periodic email updates on her House website at www.house.mn/41b.

PHOTO: Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL - New Brighton) joins fellow legislators and high school students to introduce sexual exploitation prevention legislation at a State Capitol news conference. The bill enhances current child sexual abuse prevention curriculum in public schools to include sexual exploitation.

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