With less than a year to go before the Super Bowl is played in Minneapolis, a group of local leaders is quietly meeting to map out strategies to combat sex trafficking before and after the big game.
The committee, led by Hennepin and Ramsey counties and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, includes some 40 public and private sector leaders and has been meeting since September.
Their mission: Drafting a plan to boost awareness before the Super Bowl about sex trafficking and services for victims.
Local leaders hope to leverage the widespread attention the event draws, along with funding from the NFL, to boost prevention efforts and perpetrator stings across the state.
“Sex trafficking is an issue 365 days a year,” Terry Williams, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Women’s Foundation, told more than 100 people at a meeting this week of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force. “It’s going to give us a huge platform to talk about this issue.”
The subcommittee, which includes leaders from law enforcement, nonprofits and local government, will launch a revamped website and release more details in June. Though the group includes many public officials, their meetings aren’t public.
Williams said this week that the subcommittee has looked at best and worst practices among other Super Bowl host cities. While it isn’t counting on receiving much funding from the NFL, whatever it gets will be matched by the Women’s Foundation, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to gender equity.
The plan includes boosting services for sex trafficking victims 10 days before the Super Bowl and afterward. The subcommittee also is putting together training for different industry sectors, planning ways to build awareness through public service announcements, and partnering with businesses and law enforcement.
Experts at the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center say an uptick in sex trafficking reports is likely during the Super Bowl, but added that some people are overblowing it as the largest human trafficking event in the country.
Instead, they say, while the big game likely will draw more sex ads just as big conventions do, or even the fishing opener in northern Minnesota, it won’t draw nearly the kind of large-scale sex buying some have predicted.
The Women’s Foundation has funded research at the U on the connection between large sporting events and sex trafficking. It found that the Super Bowl, like many other large events, correlates with an increase in commercial sex ads but that the ads are short-lived and that it’s unclear how much trafficking actually occurs.
In New York, law enforcement officers arrested 45 people and rescued 16 juveniles in a two-week crackdown before the Super Bowl in 2014. Some trafficked women reported seeing up to 50 johns a day, more than double the usual traffic, according to a Reuters article.
Elsewhere in the metro area, other groups are planning to help victims or potential victims during the Super Bowl.
At the University of Minnesota, a group of students held an anti-Super Bowl party last fall to bring awareness to human trafficking. In St. Paul, the Civil Society, a nonprofit that provides legal help to sexual assault and human trafficking victims, is planning to do street outreach and distribute buttons and decals showing the U.S. Bank Stadium that read “Safety 4 Youth.”
In a 14th-floor conference room in downtown St. Paul earlier this month, church leaders and other volunteers discussed plans for a hot line, sex trafficking prevention training for youths and airport workers, and a drop-in center near the stadium before and after the game for at-risk youths.
“We have to maximize our capacity to make sure the kids who can become knowledgeable have a place to go,” said Linda Miller, an attorney and executive director of Civil Society. “What we’re planning is very public and there are a lot of ways you can help.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141