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Advocates warn about Super Bowl sex trafficking

Troy Becker / Forum News Service

FARGO — Amid the Twin Cities Craigslist ads seeking food servers, drivers, T-shirt sellers and even ice skaters for Super Bowl events are a few vague, provocative posts.

One seeks "female models" with bartending experience who "must be comfortable topless" to work a party for "wealthy clients in town." Another solicits exotic dancers for the "big game weekend."

An entertainment company offers free tickets to "qualifying women" for Super Bowl concerts. Applicants must offer up their Instagram handle so the promoter can check their photos to decide who is "selected."

Melissa Williams, human trafficking navigator for eastern North Dakota, has concerns about women drawn to the spectacle of football's biggest event happening in Minneapolis this Sunday, Feb. 4.

She worries some may be lured to events or parties and end up being exploited.

"Maybe being in a situation where you feel like you don't have a choice or you feel a lot of pressure behind doing things you're not comfortable doing," Williams said.

She's also concerned women from the Fargo-Moorhead area may be forced by sex traffickers to work the Super Bowl or go there on their own in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.

"It's just a really unfortunate and quick way to make money," Williams said.

Minnesota law enforcement agencies are prepared to do their part with a recently announced crackdown on people who try to sell or buy another person for sex.

Undercover ops

Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said several targeted undercover operations will be in place in the Twin Cities area during Super Bowl weekend.

"We're being direct because we want traffickers to know that if you're going to be trafficking human beings for sex, we're coming after you," Evans said.

In addition to traffickers, police will go after "johns" who are trying to buy sex.

Under Minnesota law, the former could get 20 years in prison if caught and convicted, he said.

The latter could get their mugshot shown on media outlets and may be required to register as a predatory offender.

But Evans said trying to rescue victims of sex trafficking and get them connected with services they need to escape being victimized is the most important thing.

The sex trafficking crackdown is part of a larger security operation that's been fine-tuned for several years leading up to Super Bowl LII. Evans said along with the NFL, the city has consulted with multiple other cities that have hosted previous Super Bowls, including Houston and San Francisco.

Red flags

In her work with trafficking victims through Youthworks North Dakota, Williams has heard the scenarios of women being offered money to do something that seemed innocent, but turned out not to be.

"The unfortunate truth of people being raped, taken advantage of, and too, it could be a trafficker trying to recruit, so if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," she said.

Victims of sex trafficking can get help by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or texting "HELP" to 233733.

Evans said people with tips can call that number as well, and they'll be passed along to the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force throughout Super Bowl weekend.

If anyone spots suspected sex trafficking, such as a person who seems out of place or uncomfortable with a male, a situation where a lot of money is being exchanged or in particular juveniles with older men, they should call 911 immediately, he said.