MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sex trafficking victims’ advocates say Minneapolis is not likely to see a major spike in sex trafficking during the Super Bowl based on numbers from prior ones, but that doesn’t mean organizations are taking time off.
Combating sex trafficking rightfully remains a key focus of law enforcement during the “big game.” The Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston made 178 arrests during a nationwide prostitution sting from Jan. 18 through Super Bowl Sunday this year, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Breaking Free in St. Paul is a survivor-lead organization helping victims of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, assisting up to 500 different women and their families every year. They’re getting in on the huge event to spread the word about services and alternatives.
“We help folks get their identification and get help navigate them back to life,” executive director Terry Forliti said. “Or, not even back to normalcy — because they might not have even had normalcy ever in their life — but it’s to give them, to expose them, to provide them with the opportunity so that they can go forward in a safe, healthy environment.”
Breaking the cycle of exploitation and manipulation is difficult — something Forliti knows firsthand.
“Getting out of the life is really hard when you don’t have ID, you are bonded by trauma with your perpetrator, which is a Stockholm Syndrome, the power and control tactics they use in the mechanics of sex trafficking,” she said from Breaking Free’s office on West University Avenue. “The initiation, the recruitment and then the enslavement keep us in the life.”
Breaking Free connects victims to housing, resources to start a new life, and a network of people who know the kind of trauma they experienced personally. In January, they’ll starting training staff in the medical, transportation and hospitality industries on warning signs to look out for. Breaking Free is calling for volunteers and donations to bolster the outreach efforts, which are also being assisted by Street Works and YouthLink.
“We’re developing a plan that includes more emergency shelter beds, increased street outreach, and then we’re also going to be doing some collaboration with law enforcement,” she said. Right now Breaking Free is providing housing to around 40 families.
Forliti says the opening of the hunting season or any other major sporting event is just as likely to net arrests, despite the Super Bowl’s reputation as the largest human trafficking event. Experts say that since there isn’t reliable data for other days of the year or other events versus the Super Bowl, it’s hard to say there’s a concrete increase. However, the work to combat it in front of a large audience in Minneapolis come February is beneficial, advocates say. They’re hopeful spreading awareness about the pervasiveness of sex trafficking and getting the word out about alternatives will make a difference.