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Cornerstone hires youth advocate to work with sexually exploited youth

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Cornerstone has created a new position to focus on providing services to sexually exploited youth.

Heidi Kopischke started as the nonprofit’s new youth advocate for Cornerstone on Jan. 26. Her position is being funded through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health.

“This position is really to do some community resource networking and to see also what’s out there for youth in our target cities,” said Youa Yang, Cornerstone children, youth and families program manager.

Cornerstone, based in Bloomington, has served victims of domestic violence in Hennepin County since the early 1980s. In recent years Cornerstone went from serving five cities to 10 and it became a dual agency in 2014, which broadened the scope of who it serves. As a dual agency it serves not only domestic violence victims, but also victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, stalking, child abuse, dating violence and others, according to an August 2014 Eden Prairie News story.

Yang said issues victims might deal with from domestic violence or sexual violence sometimes overlap. For youth in particular, Cornerstone believes this position will allow the organization to provide more comprehensive services.

“It made sense for us to have an advocate that is specifically for this population,” she said.

Executive Director Meg Schnabel said Kopischke will be working within Cornerstone’s 10 target cities of Eden Prairie, Bloomington, Richfield, Edina, St. Louis Park, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Maple Grove. As a community, they are just beginning to get a better picture regarding the realities for sexually exploited youth.

The FBI has identified the Twin Cities as the nation’s 13th largest center for child prostitution. On any given weekend night in Minnesota, 45 girls under age 18 are sold for sex through the Internet. Cornerstone staff working in schools across the 10 cities have anecdotally reported that approximately 10 percent of the students they work with have disclosed that they have experienced coerced sex, sexual assault, engaged in survival sex or experienced sexual abuse, according to Schnabel.

“The new position at Cornerstone will be providing community education and will be making sure that at-risk youth will have access to available community resources, information and supportive services,” she said. “Over the year, we expect that we will know much more about the prevalence within our 10 target cities and what the need for services might be.”

Yang said the organization’s hope is that Cornerstone’s partner agencies will help refer youth who need services or support to Kopischke. They aren’t yet sure if they will hire more youth advocates.

“We’re starting with one for now because it’s a new position for us and … we want to see how much it’s utilized, what the needs are before actually expanding all that,” she said.

According to Yang, if youth are in this situation and need help, they should reach out to a trusted adult which could be a parent, teacher or someone else they know. Cornerstone also has a crisis line for rape and sexual assault, which is (612) 825-4357.

If you suspect that someone is being sexually exploited, Yang said Cornerstone can offer support to confirm if the person needs help or you can call the crisis line to get recommendations on how to handle the situation.