Minneapolis says it's ready to tackle Super Bowl sex trafficking

Roger Goodell hands the game ball to the Minn. Super Bowl Host Committee.
Roger Goodell hands the game ball to the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee at a ceremony last winter.
Courtesy Super Bowl Host Committee

Despite the Super Bowl's reputation, the big game really doesn't deliver a spike in the commercial sex trade, Minneapolis officials said Wednesday.

Still, they say the city will be prepared to disrupt demand and help victims as crowds descend on Minneapolis for the Feb. 4 Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Research, some of it conducted by the University of Minnesota, along with the experiences of law enforcement officials from past Super Bowls, don't support the belief that sex traffickers flood the host city during Super Bowl week, police Sgt. Grant Snyder told members of the Minneapolis City Council on Wednesday.

"What we're really talking about here is a sizable increase in demand," said Snyder, who presented council members with an outline of the department's role in combating traffickers. "And because of that, that has really shaped how we are going to target the demand side of this, while still making sure that we're doing our best to preserve and protect those among us who may be targeted as victims and survivors of human trafficking."

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Knowing that traffickers and buyers often conduct business online, Snyder said the department is exploring new technologies that can be used to disrupt that sex market. This and other approaches are far more effective than methods used by police in the past, he added.

"We don't need to put an undercover officer in an interaction where we get an offer of sex for money and thereby meeting the elements of a crime," said Snyder. "There's always another way to do that. And, frankly, if you ask me to do that, I'm going to recommend against it."

Law enforcement is just one part of a larger anti-trafficking effort that includes the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and non-profit groups like the Minnesota Women's Foundation, which for the past six years has run a campaign against the trafficking of young women called MN Girls Are Not For Sale.

"We have really worked with law enforcement, governments, service providers, private businesses and others to provide victims of sex trafficking trauma-centered care, instead of criminalizing them," said Lulete Mola, the foundation's director of community impact.

City officials say the collaborative approach to combating the sexual exploitation of young people has been in the works since before Minneapolis was picked to host the Super Bowl next February. However, council member Linea Palmisano said preparations for the big game have given her insights into the ongoing efforts.

"I didn't have a grasp on the problem of sex trafficking in our community before I came to City Hall," said Palmisano, who was first elected in 2013.

As a member of a sex trafficking workgroup, Palmisano said she's gotten a close-up view of the problem and the people working on solutions. "If there's a message or a sentiment to be sent from Minneapolis around this coming Super Bowl, is that sex trafficking isn't welcome here."