A group of community leaders unveiled plans Tuesday to discourage sex trafficking at next year's Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
From billboards spreading educational campaigns to enhanced statewide law enforcement stings, the anti-trafficking committee outlined new efforts to take place before, during and after the Feb. 4 game.
The 40-member group, led by Hennepin and Ramsey counties along with the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, has quietly met for the past nine months to map out strategies to crack down on sex trafficking across the state.
"We have zero tolerance," said Terry Williams of the Women's Foundation. "We're excited the Super Bowl is coming here so we can highlight our community and the work we're doing here."
The anti-trafficking group, which includes representatives from counties, nonprofits, hospitals, businesses and law enforcement, has developed a plan that includes more emergency shelter beds, increased street outreach and a hot line for tips on possible trafficking.
In August, a campaign called the "Don't Buy It Project," designed to educate men and boys about sex trafficking, will launch an online curriculum put together by the Duluth-based Men as Peacemakers group. A campaign called "I'm Priceless" will begin in September, aimed at preventing at-risk youth from being trafficked.
And in the months leading up to the game, bus drivers, hotel workers and all 10,000 Super Bowl volunteers will receive training on how to identify sex trafficking when they see it.
Increase in sex ads
While experts at the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center say an uptick in sex ads online is likely, they also say claims that the Super Bowl is the largest human trafficking event in the country are overblown. They believe the game likely will draw sex ads along the lines of other big events, such as the state fishing opener.
"It spikes during the event and goes back down," said Lauren Martin, who led the research. "I think we can expect that to happen. This is a market-driven enterprise."
As a result, local leaders are hoping to leverage the widespread attention the Super Bowl draws and boost ongoing efforts.
While other Super Bowl host cities have put together their own plans, Williams said Minnesota's plan — estimated to cost about $1 million — is unique in that it's bringing together private and public sectors with input from sex trafficking survivors.
"Our plan is much more robust," she said.
The NFL is contributing to the effort, but Williams declined to say how much, other than that it's a "generous" amount that's higher than what some other cities have received. The league's contribution is being matched by the Women's Foundation.
They're not the only ones working on sex trafficking prevention efforts before the Super Bowl; other organizations and nonprofits are launching their own efforts. But theirs is the only campaign backed by the NFL.
In 2014, the Women's Foundation was asked by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to take the lead in combating sex trafficking. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit had launched a $5 million campaign in 2011 called MN Girls Are Not For Sale.
The Women's Foundation started the second phase of that campaign last year, focused on reducing the demand for sex trafficking. It funded a study at the U's research center that will be released later this summer, mapping the demand for sex trafficking in Minnesota.
Going after sex buyers
Law enforcement agencies also are working on how to better coordinate targeted stings starting 10 days before the Super Bowl and through the game. Metro area law enforcement agencies already are teaming up on an ad hoc task force, Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder said, and are about to launch a program to communicate sex trafficking information statewide.
"We're going to field a team unlike we've ever done before," he said.
A two-year Hennepin County pilot program this year hired an investigator and prosecutor to work solely on sex trafficking cases in Minneapolis and the west metro suburbs. But while law enforcement agencies are shifting resources to go after sex buyers and traffickers, Snyder said the number of people investigating sex crimes hasn't increased for most agencies.
"It's a marathon, but it's like a sprint because we're really trying to build capacity," Snyder said. "This is something that happens every day."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141