DULUTH – Among the thousands of pages of documents filed in the Enbridge Line 3 permitting process, state regulators made a striking conclusion about construction on the pipeline: "The addition of a temporary, cash-rich workforce increases the likelihood that sex trafficking or sexual abuse will occur."
Advocates, law enforcement, the company and unions are working to ensure that isn't the case as work on the $2.6 billion pipeline across northern Minnesota enters its second month of construction.
"This is a very real problem that affects all walks of life, all colors, males and females, though we do see higher levels in Indigenous communities and in communities of color that tend to be lower income," said Sheila Lamb, a youth advocate and member of the state Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. "I think the best thing we can do as community members is to assume this is rampant and to take a stance that we will do anything in our individual power to stop it."
Pipeline opponents have for years raised concerns about an increase in trafficking along the pipeline route, especially in Indigenous communities that are often more at risk. The company and unions behind the project say that will not come to pass.
"Enbridge absolutely rejects the allegation that human trafficking will increase in Minnesota as a result of the Line 3 replacement project," the company said in a statement. "Enbridge will not tolerate this exploitation by anyone associated with our company or its projects."
Workers on the 340-mile pipeline — who will soon number about 4,200 — were all required to complete human-trafficking awareness training "as mandated in the route permit conditions issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission," Enbridge said. "Our human trafficking prevention training provides insight and education on human trafficking in Minnesota, including stories from survivors, impacts on Native communities, local programs and resources, and how to spot and report suspected trafficking situations."
Lamb said these efforts are "inadequate" if penalties for trafficking are not increased.
"As disgusting as it seems to put it in this frame, it's a matter of supply and demand, and you have to lower the demand," she said.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 took issue with the premise of increased trafficking, which was put forward in the project's environmental impact statement, and said it is "very offensive to the men and women that work in the pipeline industry here."
More than half of the Line 3 workers are expected to come from Minnesota or border states.
"Arrests for prostitution were lower during the construction of the Alberta Clipper project than they were for the two-year period after the project was completed," business manager Jason George wrote in a letter to state regulators, referring to the last major Enbridge pipeline constructed through Minnesota in 2008 and 2009. "The narratives put forward in the [environmental report] and by pipeline opponents about increased criminal activity related to pipeline construction are completely false."
Law enforcement officials are trying to be proactive on the issue. Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said the BCA worked with tribal communities on public service campaigns to "make sure people understand it is never OK for another person to purchase a human being for sex in Minnesota."
"We can end trafficking in our state when we continually teach our children all the way through their adolescence that it is never OK to purchase another human being for sex," Evans said. "When it comes to Line 3 we want to make it very clear, sex trafficking is never welcome in our state."
The BCA and the Tribes United against Sex Trafficking task force have worked with Your Call MN to highlight resources and direct people on how to report crimes or seek help. Call 1-877-996-6222 to report suspected trafficking or text HELP to 233733 to reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
"Some of our best work comes from tips from citizens," Evans said.
Still, the recently issued report from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force said that "increased awareness is needed among providers, Indigenous communities, and the general public about what sex trafficking looks like and how to avoid or stop it." Your Call MN says victims often are isolated and made dependent by controlling traffickers.
The task force chairwoman, state Sen. Mary Kunesh-Podein, said Line 3 was on the minds of the task force members as they drafted their report and recommendations for the Legislature.
"There are very well thought-out concerns around Line 3 and the possible increase in sex trafficking or violence against members of our community," Kunesh-Podein said. "We've sort of girded ourselves for what seems to be inevitable."
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496