In less than two weeks, millions will gather with family and friends to watch the Super Bowl. But right here in Minnesota, too many will never have felt so alone.
Much has been made about the uptick of sex-trafficking activity that occurs during the Super Bowl, and as the big event comes to Minneapolis, Minnesota’s law enforcement agencies are taking the right steps, being proactive. That is welcome news.
The bad news is that long after the Super Bowl comes and goes, sex trafficking in Minnesota will still be a major problem.
The FBI has identified the Twin Cities as one of the nation’s 13 largest centers for child prostitution. A 2010 study found that each month in Minnesota, at least 213 girls are sold for sex an average of five times per day through the internet and escort services. This was a conservative estimate and didn’t include hotel, street or gang activity.
The same survey interviewed women in Minneapolis who were involved in the sex trade and found that about half had first traded sex when they were under the age of 18, at an average age of 13.
According to the Human Trafficking in Minnesota report, commissioned by the Legislature, providers of services to sex-trafficking victims in Minnesota worked with 943 underage girls in 2015 alone. At the time of the most recent report, in January 2017, these providers were working with 27 underage boys and 371 underage girls.
Improvements are being made, but most service providers don’t have the specialized resources required to fully care for sex-trafficking victims.
These service providers need more resources, and so does law enforcement. Of the law enforcement agencies surveyed by the Human Trafficking in Minnesota report, 72 percent said they don’t have a unit or person responsible for human-trafficking investigations. According to the report, “a majority of the respondents believed that there are not enough resources in their department to effectively investigate human-trafficking cases.”
And the issue most commonly raised by our men and women in law enforcement, in the “additional comments” section of the survey, was the lack of resources to combat human trafficking.
Thankfully, our law enforcement agencies have been making progress even with the resources that they have: In 2016, they made 235 arrests related to child sex-trafficking, up from 218 in 2015.
But arrests don’t always put bad guys behind bars. In 2015, for example, only 113 sex-trafficking charges were filed.
Enough is enough. The attorney general is the state’s chief law enforcement and legal officer, and yet for decades the Democrat-controlled office of the attorney general has failed to provide meaningful leadership to fight human trafficking. In a world of limited resources, priorities matter. While previous attorneys generals have been distracted by politics, county attorneys and law enforcement have been left to fight the complex problem of human trafficking largely on their own.
That cannot continue. As attorney general, I will make sure that our state’s front-line prosecutors — our county attorneys — can count on the AG’s office to back them up on human-trafficking prosecutions or to take over prosecutions whenever needed. We will marshal resources to ensure that county attorneys have everything they need to make sure that the bad guys get locked up for the longest time possible.
Tackling this problem will require hard work — a broad, statewide, coordinated effort. I promise to provide clear direction, training and resources. With a serious effort and greater coordination, we can show compassion to victims and end Minnesota’s sex-trafficking epidemic. It is time for the office of attorney general to lead.
Doug Wardlow is a Republican candidate for attorney general.