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No uptick in Pre-Super Bowl sex trafficking -- yet

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Fans make their way into the stadium after going through security lines.
There hasn't been an uptick in sex-trafficking in the week before Super Bowl LII. But it is early yet, two outreach workers said Monday.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News file

Two women who work with victims of sex trafficking said Monday that they have not yet seen an uptick in trafficked people the week before Super Bowl LII.

But it is early yet, cautioned Beth Holger-Ambrose, the executive director of The Link. 

She and Terry Forliti, a former prostitute who is the executive director of Breaking Free, said outreach workers are working around the clock in Minneapolis to provide shelter and information to potential victims. They also want to increase awareness.

Officials said in November, however, that there is little evidence to support the notion that sex trafficking spikes during the Super Bowl. 

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 in November. 

"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."

Beth Holger-Ambrose said that her group will be on the streets from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. to help identify youth victims, many of whom are as a young at 15 years old. 

Some signs of potentially trafficked victims include: 

• Youth hanging out with people older than they are.

• Inappropriately dressed.

• Looking fearful or tough.

• Displaying a branding tattoo of their trafficker.

• Looking at their phones constantly.

But the majority of the sex trafficking business happens via social media. 

Forliti said 80 percent of the business happens via Facebook and Backpage, among other web sites. Holger-Ambrose said most prostitution occurs early in the morning and over the noon hour as men come into the city for work or take their lunch hour break.   Forliti said Breaking Free sees about 350 victims a year and of those about 80 percent were sexually abused before they were 12 years old.

"That is just the tip of the iceberg," she said. 

The average purchaser of sex, based on 777 men that have gone through a program at Breaking Free, is:

• 47 years old.

• Married with children, one of whom is a girl.

• Has a bachelor's degree.

• Travels 15 to 30 minutes to buy sex.

• Has no criminal record.

• Does not live in the city.

To reach Breaking Free: 651-645-6557
To reach The Link: 612-232-5428.

 Correction (Jan. 29, 2018): An earlier version of this story included an incorrect phone number for The Link. The story has been updated with the correct number. 

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