I was inspired to talk about sex trafficking in Minnesota because of something someone said to me a couple of weeks ago. We were discussing sex trafficking in one of my classes and this student said that he was concerned about this issue, but it was hard to feel truly connected to the issue because sex trafficking is not really happening here in the United States, let alone in Minnesota. Firstly, let me say that this it is completely fair to feel this way, because sadly, we simply do not hear much or get educated enough on issues like human and sex trafficking. The main problem when it comes to issues of social justice is not always apathy, but simply lack of education and discussion. Many times, if people were more aware of the true magnitude of an issue, they would be more inclined to enact change or feel more concerned about an issue.
The truth is, sex trafficking is not just occurring in foreign countries or as a thing of the past. As reported by the U.S. Department of Justice, 83% percent of total sex trafficked victims between the years 2008 and 2010 were citizens of the U.S. This hits pretty close to home because it is a reminder that this is not a foreign or distant problem; this is happening right here in the United States. Even more concerning is the prevalence of sex trafficking right here in Minnesota. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified the Twin Cities as one of 13 U.S. cities with a large incidence rate of sex trafficking.
It is disturbing the amount of people, typically women, that are exploited in the Twin Cities alone. Women are targeted for a variety of reasons, but it is especially prominent among homeless and LGBTQA citizens. When talking about exploitation in the context of sex trafficking, it is typically describing as being approached or coerced into sexual acts in exchange for money, food or shelter. One study done by the Minnesota Human Trafficking Taskforce found that 44% of the homeless LGBTQA community has been approached for this “survival sex”, with 19% engaging in the act. Other targeted groups become more complex as we continue to look at sex trafficking prevalence among different races and class levels. For example, a 2014 study by the Minnesota Human Trafficking Taskforce found that when analyzing the trafficking of underage girls in Minneapolis, the facilitators and victims were often residents in areas with high rates of poverty, whereas the buyers were dispersed across the Twin Cities. This exemplifies the exploitation of those living in poverty.
It’s important to recognize these intersections within those being exploited and question how we can change the circumstances that put people at high risk. In addition, it’s important to notice the risk factors and understand sex trafficking is not always caused by abduction or force. Many times, underage girls are targeted through abusive relationships and coerced into this industry. Knowing the risk factors and signs is the best way to intervene if you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking.
When talking about sex trafficking, it’s even more important to look at the perpetrators and realize that these are the people that need to be criminally charged, not the victims. Of prostitute related arrests, 89% of arrests were prostituted individuals, while 10% were those using the services. This exemplifies the fact that it is hard to make a change when the victims are still being treated as criminals. In reality, those exploiting the victims are the criminals, especially when the person is under 18, which is not a rare occurrence. Luckily, Minnesota Public Radio reports that a bill awaiting passage has the potential to help underage children who have been prostituted as victims rather than criminals. Hopefully this will help to push the idea that those who are exploited need help rather than punishment.
Sex trafficking is seen primarily as a human rights issue, as it affects people of all genders and backgrounds, however, I see it as a façade for much deeper problems in society, as well. The prevalence of sex trafficking is an indicator of our culture of sexual violence and entitlement to someone else’s body, specifically regarding women. Although people of all genders are affected by this, women are primarily targeted because of long-standing systems of oppression. Exact numbers are hard to calculate, but the International Labor Organization estimates there are at least 20.9 million people forced into labor at any given time, with 11.4 million of these victims being women or girls. As a state, country and world, we need to recognize and acknowledge the severity of these numbers as both a human rights issue and women’s rights issue.
This fellow student had completely good intentions, as I’m sure many people do, which is why I think it is so important to simply discuss sex trafficking and raise awareness. Hopefully, this awareness will then inspire people to enact change. Let’s keep talking about human and sex trafficking. Let’s keep talking about these tough issues, because we can all learn about something we were not aware was happening. There is always something we don’t know, and if we simply stop to listen for a moment, we could learn surprising information that will inspire us to make a change. Help spread awareness of sex trafficking by starting the discussion around it.
The Minnesota Human Trafficking Taskforce
Minnesota Public Radio News
Women’s Foundation of Minnesota