Children get trucked in from all over the country to meet the demand for paid sex. Advertising on Backpage.com, Craigslist, and other websites ramps up. For gangs and pimps, Super Bowl weekend is a boon.
“Trafficking victims are often threatened, beaten, drugged, isolated, deceived, and manipulated psychologically in order to make them dependent, to control them, and to keep them captive,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the Department of Justice (DOJ) Human Trafficking Summit on Feb. 2.
“It’s hard to comprehend this level of cruelty. But human trafficking remains far too common. The FBI estimated at one point that this was the third-largest criminal activity in the world after drugs and counterfeiting.”
According to federal law, any minor under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion is involved.
There are more than 100,000 young children involved in sex trafficking in the United States—of which, 85 to 90 percent are girls, according to the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking.
One in five runaway children likely become sex trafficking victims, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates. In 2015, NCMEC reported 18,500 runaways, which means a likely 3,700 sex trafficking victims.
A search on the NCMEC website for children reported missing in the last three weeks brings up 229 cases.
Greg Brooker, U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, is part of a collaborative effort to stamp out sex trafficking in the region, and with the Super Bowl being played in Minneapolis this year, a huge effort is underway.
Nineteen months ago, an anti-sex trafficking team of representatives from over 40 organizations was created to map out strategies to crack down on sex trafficking in the area. Brooker’s office is part of that team, which includes non profits, hospitals, private businesses, and law enforcement.
“We’ve developed a plan that includes additional emergency shelter beds, increased street outreach, and a hotline to report trafficking-related tips to law enforcement,” Brooker said at the DOJ summit on Feb. 2.
“We’ve created a 24-hour fully-staffed hotline to ensure victims can immediately find safe shelter. And worked with governmental entities to relax zoning requirements during the timeframe of the Super Bowl to make sure no victim will be denied space in a very cold month in Minnesota.”
In the months leading up to the Super Bowl, bus drivers, hotel workers, and all 10,000 Super Bowl volunteers received specific training on how to identify sex trafficking when they see it, and how to report it, Brooker said.
What’s especially unique about this team, is not only brought together public and private stakeholders, but also the key voices of sex trafficking survivors.
Multiple public awareness campaigns, designed especially for the Super Bowl, are also playing in malls, on radios, and visible on bus shelters and billboards.
Brooker said targeted trafficking stings have been conducted over the last week throughout the Twin Cities area and many arrests have already been made.
“While the increased awareness and attention that the Super Bowl brings to this issue is important, I want to again emphasize that human trafficking is not a problem unique to the Super Bowl or any other major event,” Brooker said. “If we want to get the problem of human trafficking under control, awareness and enforcement efforts must continue long after the big game is over.”
He said a recent survey of 750 men revealed that most sex buyers are men between the ages of 30 and 60. More than 70 percent are white and half are married. Nearly 70 percent have children, and almost half make $50,000 or more per year.
Sessions said the DOJ brought a record number of trafficking cases last year—charging more than 550 defendants. These cases involved all forms of human trafficking: labor trafficking, sex trafficking, exploiting minors and adults, U.S. citizens, legal guest workers, and illegal aliens.
Last fall, the FBI and state and local law enforcement arrested 120 traffickers and recovered 84 children in a major nationwide operation, Sessions said. Victims were as young as 12.
“But when we lock away a trafficker, our work isn’t over. We don’t just stop there. We also fund survivor-centered programs that help trafficking victims walk the long road to recovery,” Sessions said.
The 94 of U.S. Attorneys’ offices have designated Human Trafficking Coordinators, who develop customized anti-trafficking strategies for their districts, and the DOJ offered more than $47 million in grant funding to anti-trafficking efforts in 2017.
“There is no room in a civilized society for those who choose to violate an individual’s rights and freedoms by subjecting them to any form of human trafficking,” Sessions said. “To those that still make that choice: make no mistake, the Justice Department will use every lawful tool to uncover your illegal activity and bring you to justice.”
How to Spot Human Trafficking
The following is a list of potential red flags and indicators of human trafficking from the National Human Trafficking Hotline website. The list is not exhaustive and is just a selection of possible indicators.
If you see any of these red flags, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Common Work and Living Conditions:
- Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
- Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp/manager
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
- Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
- Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
- High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior:
- Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
- Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health:
- Lacks medical care and/or is denied medical services by employer
- Appears malnourished or shows signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals
- Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control:
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records or bank account
- Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
- Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
- Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in
- Loss of sense of time
- Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
If You See Something, Do Something
- Call 1-888-373-7888 – National Human Trafficking Resource Center
- Submit a tip online at ICE.gov/tips or HumanTraffickingHotline.org/report-trafficking