Campaigns to battle sex trafficking are launching this week and next, partly in hopes of leveraging the extra attention that will accompany an estimated 1 million visitors to the state for the Super Bowl this winter.
A PSA campaign, the “Don’t Buy It” project, is the first public awareness campaign of its kind in Minnesota. The campaign, by Duluth-based Men As Peacemakers, includes TV ads, billboards and bus station ads in Duluth and the Twin Cities telling men not to buy sex or believe misconceptions about women in prostitution.
“Women are not products, people are not products, men are more than consumers,” the 60-second PSA says.
In the Twin Cities, another campaign will start next week aimed at preventing young girls and boys from becoming sexually exploited. The campaign, called “I Am Priceless,” is from Minneapolis-based The Link, which provides services and housing for sexually exploited youths. Billboards, bus shelters, radio ads and a downtown Minneapolis mural will target 10- to 14-year-old girls and boys with the message: “My body is not for sale.”
What’s unique about the campaign, said Beth Holger-Ambrose, executive director of The Link, is that “it’s created by youth who have been sex trafficked ... in hopes of preventing it from happening [again].” Many young people never recognize that they’ve been victims of sex trafficking, she said.
“Commercial sexual exploitation is an everyday thing in our community and does cause harm,” said Ed Heisler, executive director of Men As Peacemakers. “We need to talk about how to address it.”
Both campaigns were funded by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, which is backing more prevention initiatives across the state as part of its $2.5 million program “Minnesota Girls Are Not For Sale,” focused on reducing the demand for paid sex.
At St. Paul Central and Como Park high schools, for example, a program called “Journey Men” is teaching boys about “healthy manhood” this fall for the second year. It’s aimed at reducing objectification of women and their emotional and physical abuse.
Hosting this year’s Super Bowl has lent fresh urgency and funding to sex trafficking prevention efforts in the state.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity to reach out to a [bigger] audience,” Holger-Ambrose said.
Even so, experts at the University of Minnesota say that the game won’t draw nearly the kind of large-scale sex buying some have predicted.
Over the years, the state has ramped up sentences of pimps and overhauled how it treats sex trafficking victims. Leaders say the state now is moving from intervention to prevention of an often hidden crime. From Mankato to Minneapolis, law enforcement across the state has shifted to intensify the crackdown on sex buyers, with smaller departments enforcing prostitution laws and holding undercover stings for the first time.
A sex trafficking committee of about 80 people, led by Hennepin and Ramsey counties and the Women’s Foundation, is planning special efforts before, during and after the Super Bowl — adding emergency shelter beds, boosting law enforcement stings, increasing street outreach and training all 10,000 Super Bowl volunteers on how to identify sex trafficking.
“The Super Bowl is one of the most important cultural events we have in our country,” Heisler said. “There really isn’t a better platform to talk about ... how commercial sexual exploitation is a part of harm.”