Grant gives boost to Southwest Crisis Center
WORTHINGTON — The Southwest Crisis Center in Worthington welcomed Julie Fast last week to her new position as regional navigator serving 18 counties in southwest Minnesota.
Fast, a native of Mountain Lake, has worked in different capacities at the Southwest Crisis Center for six years.
“I’ve worked with cases dealing with youth and adults, as well as working on a few sex trafficking cases, so I have a wide range of experience,” Fast said.
The regional navigator position was created after Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor Law, which will take effect Aug. 1, in 2011. The law states that youths who engage in prostitution will no longer be seen as criminals, but instead as victims and survivors of sexual exploitation.
The law also:
* Excludes sexually exploited youths under 18 from the definition of a delinquent child.
* Adds the definition of sexually exploited youth to Minnesota’s child protection codes.
* Increases the penalties against commercial sex abusers or purchasers.
In addition, the law also directs the state’s commissioner of public safety to devise a victim-centered, statewide response for sexually exploited youths.
This statewide response, now known as the “No Wrong Door” approach, allowed regional navigators across the state to be hired for its implementation. It is designed to ensure communities across Minnesota have the knowledge, skills and resources to effectively identify sexually exploited and at-risk youths.
“The state received funding to implement this program, and then they issued in the form of grants out to certain organizations to house regional navigators,” Fast said. “We (Southwest Crisis Center) were fortunate enough to receive that grant.”
The Southwest Crisis Center received the $80,000 grant to fund Fast’s position and other resources she may need to be successful in it.
“My role here is if there is a sexually exploited youth in this 18-county area, they (the state) wanted to create a position where whomever is working with that individual has a main point of contact,” Fast explained. “Whether it’s a community member, law enforcement, social worker, whatever the case may be, they will have resources and tools to help that youth.”
Fast said one of the biggest challenges she will face is the large territory. However, she feels that issue will be consistent throughout the state.
“This law becomes in effect on Aug. 1, but yet we’re still working on the final protocol, which probably won’t be out until next fall,” Fast said. “So were developing this protocol while this new law is being implemented — we’re sort of building the plane as it’s flying.”
As far as targeting a “hot spot” for these crimes within the 18-county region, Fast states it’s too early.
“We know that there are areas, specifically Native American girls, who are among the highest population of being at risk of being sexually exploited,” Fast said. “So with the lower Sioux being in our coverage area, I would assume we may see some activity around that area.
“We have seen some potential cases here in Worthington and Nobles County, and my guess is we’re going to see some cases along this I-90 area, but it’s too early to tell,” she added.
Minnesota is one of five states in the nation that will have enacted this law come Aug. 1, making it one of the pioneering states for implementation.
For the future of the grant that funds the regional navigator position, Southwest Crisis Center Director Sarah Wahl said that’s not certain at this point.
“I think during this first year we will get a glimpse of what’s happening in the state, and I am hopeful that it will be funded again next year,” Wahl said. “It may not specifically be through the same grant. It could be funded another way, as well.”
Wahl also said she’s happy about the new position created at the Southwest Crisis Center.
“I am excited that Julie is on board, and I just hope that we can continue to make a difference in southwest Minnesota,” Wahl said.
For more information or to report any cases, call 376-4311.
Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.