I have to confess. Minnesota’s position as 2018 Super Bowl Host City does not excite me the way it does many others who share our fair state. If our boys in purple make it to the Big Game™, my plan is still to skip town and wait it all out. Even the prospect of raking in some extra cash renting out my place to overzealous fans willing to pay more than I made my first year out of college isn’t appealing. When people ask why I wouldn’t want to cash in on the opportunity, I explain I don’t love the idea of strangers in my space. Especially strangers coming to town during what I, mistakenly, believed to be "the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States."
The Super Bowl of Sex Trafficking Myth
It wasn’t until I attended the January Women in Digital event on tackling sex trafficking during the Super Bowl that I understood just how inaccurate this myth is. Rachael Marret, who is a member of the Anti-Sex Trafficking Super Bowl Committee, shared some facts that dispelled the myth, but, rather than allay my concerns, it simply made me more aware of just how prolific sex trafficking is in Minnesota (and across the world). Even in the absence of the Super Bowl.
In fact, it’s estimated that 380,000 Minnesota men have bought sex at least once in their lives. It’s actually our state’s beloved hunting and fishing openers that are the biggest weekends for sex trafficking in the state. As Rachael presented, there was some discussion about adult women who may be choosing to participate and how that is reflected in the numbers. The reality is, 75 percent of these individuals are being trafficked by traffickers.
The vast majority of sex trafficking victims start being sold at an average age of 13. Rachael also noted that LBGTQ youth are often even more at risk. This impacts our entire community, year-round. And, it has a history of impacting Minnesota disproportionately. In 2009, the FBI identified our state as the nation’s 13th largest center for child sex trafficking.
Spreading the Word
These figures could be incredibly disheartening, but Rachael and the rest of the committee found a way to turn the Super Bowl into an opportunity to not only raise awareness around the fact that sex trafficking is a 365-day-a-year problem but also to provide support for victims and actually curb the demand for commercial sex.
They launched two campaigns. One targeting men seeking to buy sex with the message: Don’t Buy It. The other was designed to support victims with the message: I Am Priceless. These campaigns were disseminated both online and offline in advance of the Super Bowl, but, because this was a Women in Digital presentation, Rachael spent much of the time discussing how digital had helped get these messages in front of the right audiences.
As part of the Don’t Buy It campaign, they used insights from Google to target men visiting news and sports websites who had previously searched for erotica. They used geotargeting to reach sports fans outside of stadiums and social media to target men in Minnesota. They found the most success with a pre-roll video on YouTube, which achieved a 90 percent completion rate.
To reach potential victims, they leveraged YouTube, Spotify, Instagram and Snapchat to reach girls ages 10-14. In these strategic efforts, Snapchat filters had the most success. Outside of paid advertising, the committee turned to grassroots efforts supported by area high school students. One of the most impactful initiatives was a video created by a high school girls hockey team. They also used geotargeting to meet victims where they are most vulnerable, including homeless shelters, public transit stations and malls. The call-to-action approach on this campaign was uniquely designed to allow victims to discreetly send a text when they are ready to reach out for help.
A paid search grant from Google AdWords and partnerships with key Minnesota public agencies further helped the committee spread their message.
From Message to Action
Because this issue isn’t just about the victims and the perpetrators, the committee also found ways to help others in the community be a part of the solution. They developed online training tools for hotel workers, taxi and Uber drivers, Mall of America Staff and the more than 10,000 volunteers working the Super Bowl.
Beyond the committee’s efforts, law enforcement is using online ads to set up online sting operations. They are even using chatbots to communicate with men looking to purchase sex from minors. Service providers like The Link are prepared to provide shelter beds for victims and street outreach teams from Breaking Free and StreetWorks will be working the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
These groups will also be handing out survival kits to victims that contain everything from condoms to socks. The Link has set up a registry that allows people to purchase much-needed items for as little as a $15 tax-deductible donation.
The issue of sex trafficking in Minnesota won’t disappear on February 5th, but hopefully, the publicity afforded by an event like the Super Bowl will help the committee and the local service providers start a dialogue that continues beyond the event. For their part, the committee has developed and documented each of their initiatives in a way that will allow them to pass along a repeatable toolkit to the next Super Bowl host city. If you want to help, make a donation to the Rise Up registry or volunteer with an organization like The Link. There will be plenty of opportunities to help long after Super Bowl weekend as we all work together to make Minnesota a safe place for everyone.
/written by Eliza Green
1. Mapping the Demand: Sex Buyers in the State of Minnesota, a 2017 report, Robert J. Jones Urban Research Center
2. U.S. Department of Justices