Officials are working with hotels to combat sex trafficking

They're teaching workers to identify the signs of trafficking victims.
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A Twin Cities county is hoping a new campaign will help victims of human trafficking.

Officials from Washington County on Thursday announced their new Speak Up They Can't campaign, which is their latest effort in the county's victim-centered approach to combat trafficking. 

The Speak Up campaign is a partnership with county and city law enforcement agencies. They'll work with hotels and motels to train workers about the physical and behavioral signs that someone may be a victim of sex trafficking, and how to report the potential victim to police. 

"Very few, if any, victims actually come forward. We have to find them, we have to be their voice, and we have to provide their recovery," Imran Ali, a prosecutor who handles many of the sex trafficking cases in Washington County, said, according to the Pioneer Press

Indicators someone may be a victim of trafficking include only paying with cash and checking in without any luggage.

The hope is that hospitality workers will be another resource in identifying these victims, thus helping law enforcement agencies be more effective getting victims help and arresting their perpetrators. 

Hotels and motels are the most common reported venue for sex trafficking, with perpetrators bringing their victims there in hopes they won't be detected by police. 

"No hotel owner wants this to happen," Dan McElroy, the president of Hospitality Minnesota, said, according to the Star Tribune. "Our goal is to make it so difficult that they don't want to use hotels." 

You can read more about the Speak Up campaign here

Other efforts to combat trafficking

Speak Up is yet another initiative by Washington County to put an end to sex trafficking. In 2015, the county formed a coalition of prosecutors, law enforcement and social workers to help victims.

And since then, they've made a lot of progress identifying victims and arresting criminals. The county has made 28 sex trafficking-related arrests since 2016, after making zero of these arrests in 2015, the Woodbury Bulletin reports.

The county has also identified more than 50 victims of sex trafficking in just the last year, the publication notes. 

In addition to Washington County's efforts, there are groups statewide working to combat trafficking. 

There's the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force works with agencies across the state to improve its response to sex trafficking.

One of the more recent statewide awareness campaigns came this summer from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which hung up posters at rest stops across the state to inform people who to identify and report potential victims of this modern day form of slavery. 

These come as a special task force was formed to help prevent sex trafficking when the Super Bowl is in Minneapolis in February. 

Trafficking in Minnesota

The Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force says the demand for commercial sex drives prostitution and human sex trafficking. (Prostitution, under Minnesota state law, means hiring or agreeing to hire someone for sex, while human trafficking means aiding in the prostitution of someone.)

Because prostitution and sex trafficking are closely related, statistics about the prevalence of these crimes are often lumped together. Estimates show that 8,000 to 12,000 people are involved in prostitution or sex trafficking every day in Minnesota, a 2009 fact sheet from the Advocates of Human Rights shows.

And the rates are so high, that the FBI identified the Twin Cities as one of 13 metro areas in the U.S. with a high incidence of child prostitution.

According to the most recent report to the Minnesota Legislature, here’s the number of people who were charged with trafficking-related crimes between 2007 and 2016:

Minnesota has a Safe Harbor Law, which protects people under the age of 24 who engage in prostitution – they’re treated as victims instead of criminals.

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Hotels enlisted to combat sex traffic

Noting that the sale of young girls for sex often begins with online ads and ends in suburban hotels, a coalition of officials from law enforcement and the hospitality industry launched an initiative to put hotel and motel workers on the front lines of the fight against prostitution.