New UMN report details sex trafficking landscape in Minnesota

While most sex trafficking studies focus on victims and traffickers, UMN’s study aimed to delve into buyers’ characteristics.

Max Chao

A one-of-a-kind University of Minnesota study detailing sex purchasing patterns across Minnesota was unveiled Wednesday.

While most studies on sex trafficking focus on the providers, victims and traffickers, this one aimed to identify the least known portion of the sex trafficking marketplace — buyers.

The research was conducted by the University’s Urban Outreach and Outreach-Engagement Center using data from law enforcement and activist groups.

“This is critical for an overall understanding of the marketplace’s role of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation within that market, and for the identification of strategies that might combat that trafficking,” said Lauren Martin, lead author of the study and director of research at UROC.

The research found sex buyers are often middle-aged, white, married men with disposable income. Buyers often travel anywhere from 30-60 miles to buy sex.

While the study did not focus on prevalence, it noted a recent national study estimated 14 percent of men had paid for sex, with 1 percent doing so in the past year.

While there are some general trends in sex trafficking, the study found there is a broad range of buyers, victims and services solicited, with women, people of color, young people and those with lower incomes also soliciting sex in lower numbers.

The study also showed people of color and members of the LGBT community were more likely to be victims of trafficking compared to the overall population, Martin said.

The research’s goal is to aid law enforcement and activism efforts by giving them empirical data to work from, she said.

At a press conference announcing the report Wednesday, representatives from law enforcement, UROC and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota spoke on its significance.

Drew Evans, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said at the announcement the research gives law enforcement empirical backing to many things they knew anecdotally.

For the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, which largely funded the study, focusing on the buyers was a change in strategy from 2012, said Mary Beth Hanson, vice president of external relations for the organization.

This report was compiled over 2.5 years, and consisted of a research team of over 20 graduate and undergraduate students.

Information from the study was gathered in 157 interviews with people across the state, ranging from lawyers to social workers.

For Martin, who has spent over a decade researching sex trafficking, this is the latest in over 13 reports she has assisted.

Moving forward, she said they will continue to build on the research by piecing it together with past projects to get a greater picture of the trafficking landscape in Minnesota.