Come February 2018, an international spotlight will shine on Minnesota as we host Super Bowl LII. The prominence of this event also provides a platform for affecting real change in our communities around serious, everyday issues, such as Minnesota’s ongoing collective effort to end child sex trafficking. We hope all Minnesotans will take note and support these important efforts — not just in 2018, but today and every day.
Sex trafficking is not a special event: It happens 365 days a year in truck stops, hotel rooms, cabins, fish houses, suburban homes and urban apartments. In Minnesota, on any given night, there are nearly 50 beds set aside in safe housing for children who have survived trafficking or sexual exploitation — and many, many more children are out there who still need our help.
Over the past six years, a focused collaboration among law enforcement authorities, public officials, business leaders and organizations that advocate for victims has made Minnesota a model of how to create a comprehensive response to end child sex trafficking. The state’s Safe Harbor law treats trafficked minors as victims instead of criminals. And to date, we have secured $13.1 million to fund safe housing and trauma-informed care for sexually exploited young people.
We see the occasion of Super Bowl LII as an opportunity to push our communities’ efforts even further. And although some have dubbed past Super Bowls as the single largest trafficking event in the U.S., new research says otherwise.
A 2016 study commissioned by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center found that while the Super Bowl does temporarily increase the number of online ads for commercial sex in the host city, it does not stand out from other large events, such as trade shows and other sporting events. In fact, one study the center identified found that Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C., showed the largest and most consistent draw of online ads for sex.
To combat the potential for any increase in trafficking during our upcoming event, we have proactively engaged business, law enforcement, nonprofits and other government agencies in the formation of a Super Bowl Anti-Sex Trafficking Committee to elevate the issue and coordinate Minnesota’s heightened response before, during and after Super Bowl LII.
The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota as well as Hennepin and Ramsey counties are leading this coalition focused on scalable and replicable actions to prevent and halt sex trafficking during the Super Bowl and future large-scale events here at home. While this community has long been a force in protecting young girls and boys and women, we intend to leverage this event as a platform to increase resources and attention to this issue. We will train more law enforcement officers, fund more services for victims, equip more students with tools they need to stay safe, engage more men in the effort and rally more employers to train their employees to respond to suspected trafficking.
Our “team” in this effort is committed to ensuring that every child experiences this world as a place of safety and prosperity. That will be a victory we can all celebrate every day of the year.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson is co-chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. John Choi is Ramsey County attorney. Lee Roper-Batker is president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.