Trafficking Hysteria in Minneapolis

The below letter to the editor was written by The Sex Workers Outreach Project of Minneapolis in response to this article published in the Star Tribune on 7/29/2016.

SWOP Minneapolis sent this letter to the Star Tribune and unsurprisingly received no response and no publication. SWOP Minneapolis finds it imperative that this article gets circulated as widely as possible to correct the misinformation that continues to perpetuate stereotypes, criminalization and stigma against sex workers.

Dear Editor,

After reading the sensationalized article, "Twin Cities area braces for Super Bowl sex trafficking" (July 30, 2016), we, the members of the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Minneapolis (SWOPMpls), need to correct the misleading and false information about sex work and sex trafficking that were recklessly presented as fact and data-driven. The aforementioned article does direct harm to sex workers by promoting moral panic surrounding “sex trafficking” not based on data, but on fear. This familiar rhetoric of the Super Bowl causing an increase in sex trafficking is unfounded – as The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (2011) has consistently found a lack of evidence to support the idea that trafficking increases due to sporting events.

Like clockwork, the anticipation of a major sporting event will inevitably produce a moral panic about troves of trafficked women and girls arriving to the host city in order to be exploited and raped at the hands of pimps, traffickers, and sex buyers. And every time, these morally panicked responses are met with the presentation of the fact that these claims are completely unsubstantiated (for a review of this myth being debunked, see the Washington Post political fact checker on the topic of sex trafficking).

A contributing factor to perpetuating this myth is clearly evidenced within the criminal justice system in Washington County, including the crusade by prosecutor Ali Iman, who harmfully conflates sex trafficking with sex work. Ignorantly or maliciously conflating trafficking and sex work not only further stigmatizes and harms those of us in the adult sex industry, but also diverts resources away from helping actual victims of abuse.

To familiarize yourself with the literature, Mr. Iman, view this report from 2011. You will find that the research shows that "despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events."

Citing the number of ads on Backpage.com for sexual services is not an indicator of an epidemic of sex trafficking. It merely reflects the number of individuals selling sexual services. And if the number of ads increases during special events, again, there’s no evidence that these ads are promoting sex trafficking.

Washington County has been notorious for conducting sex trafficking sting operations utilizing Backpage. When these stings arrest sex workers and/or their clients, the issue of sex trafficking is not being addressed. And when the police write ads promoting sex with a minor, and arrest those who respond (a la To Catch a Predator), there is still no evidence sex trafficking is rampant in the Twin Cities. That would be like making up a drug called PseudoScience, advertising it on Backpage, arresting those who want to buy it, and then claiming there’s a PseudoScience addiction epidemic.

We expect and require better research and reliance on facts from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, Shawn Neudauer, their spokesperson, provided just the opposite when they said, “I think it’s unique among federal agencies in that we have a very victim-centered approach. Our goal is to rescue somebody in a situation.” The approach to “rescuing” sex workers is not unique, and is damaging to sex workers as it ignores the fact that sex workers do not want or need to be a rescue project. This sentiment also suggests that all sex workers are victims who are trafficked, coerced, or otherwise forced into selling sexual services, which is based on unfounded stereotypes regarding restrictive gender roles and antiquated notions of what people, particularly women, “should” do with their sexuality (i.e., not sell sex).

As Kate Mogulescu, supervising attorney for the Exploitation Intervention Project at the Legal Aid Society in New York City stated in your article, “Publicity regarding the alleged increase in trafficking around these events does nothing to deter exploitation, and focuses law enforcement resources in precisely the wrong way.” Unfortunately, this is precisely what is occurring in Minneapolis and will likely continue to happen pre-Super Bowl unless it is recognized that sex work is a legitimate form of labor and is not the same as sex trafficking.

For more information on sex work and the Sex Workers Rights Movement, please visit SWOP USA’s website, www.swopusa.org.

To support Minneapolis-based sex workers, donate here: www.swopminneapolis.weebly.com

Sincerely,

The Sex Workers Outreach Project of Minneapolis

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