Ailts: Sex trafficking is still a problem after the Super Bowl

More attention needs to be paid to the issue of sex trafficking in Minnesota.

Ellen Ailts

The rumor that the Super Bowl is the biggest sex trafficking event in the world is persistent and widespread, perpetuated through the Internet, media and word of mouth. The Super Bowl host city often sets up a task force and provides extra police training to address the problem, but there is conflicting information on whether trafficking actually increases around events like the Super Bowl. For example, The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women conducted a study on sex trafficking trends, and found that “despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.”

It is estimated that there are between 20 and 24 million victims of human trafficking globally. According to 2016 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 54 percent of victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation, the majority of whom are women and children. Some Minnesotans have grown paranoid while the Super Bowl is in town, perhaps believing sex trafficking is typically a more international, foreign issue, but the fact is, this problem is transpiring in our own backyards 365 days a year. In fact, Minnesota had the third-highest number of human trafficking cases in the U.S. in 2015. 

In 2011, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota launched “MN Girls Are Not for Sale,” a $7.5 million campaign aiming to end sex trafficking in Minnesota through education, research and policy change. Raising awareness is crucial, and those who work to stop sex trafficking in the state have seized the opportunity to capitalize on the increased visibility that the Super Bowl has brought with it. 

A group of community leaders from Hennepin and Ramsey counties have partnered with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota to fund a $1 million campaign to fight sex trafficking, through funding billboards, increased statewide law enforcement stings, a tip hotline, increased outreach and shelter facilities for those at risk. Men as Peacemakers released the Don’t Buy It Project, under the tagline, “People are not products. Men are more than consumers,” with ads and commercials targeting the way men view prostitution. 

Signs at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport appeal to travelers: Be Alert for Human Trafficking. While this is important, it’s important to know that all sex trafficking operations don’t occur at international borders, or in more obvious settings, such as street prostitution. Trafficking happens in unmarked brothels, “massage parlors” or through ads, either online or in traditional print media. While some choose to work in the sex industry, for others, it isn’t a voluntarily decision; many vulnerable women and girls are targeted every day, lured into a world of violence and abuse. 

Human trafficking is a huge and under-discussed problem in Minnesota, with sex trafficking specifically being only a fraction of the range of human trafficking practices. Anti-trafficking activist groups are doing important work that doesn’t receive enough recognition and support, considering the magnitude of the issue in our state. Human trafficking in Minnesota has occurred, and will occur, despite the Super Bowl. Awareness of the issue that extends beyond rumor and myth and conversations about its solutions are well overdue.