The anti-human trafficking non-profit, In Our Backyard (IOB) conducted a ten-day advocacy blitz surrounding Super Bowl LII and compiled a comprehensive report detailing their efforts to combat sex trafficking. Working with law enforcement, local leaders, convenience store owners, and generous volunteers, IOB provided viable leads to law enforcement who arrested 94 sex buyers and recovered 28 victims with zero victim arrests.
Wherever the Super Bowl is hosted, sex traffickers often transport victims from around the country to satisfy the high influx of men who represent potential buyers of commercial sex. Although human trafficking takes place in every zip code in the US, the Super Bowl is an annual target for law enforcement and advocacy groups alike.
IOB planned their approach for more than a year prior to the SB 52 in Minnesota. The group hosted a training for local volunteers that was meant to “deepen understanding of Human Trafficking” and help them to “take meaningful action to stop it.” After the training, some 200 volunteers met with convenience store owners to discuss what they can do to prevent human trafficking. IOB is the first advocacy group to target convenience stores, and their efforts found overwhelming support.
The materials IOB gave volunteers to distribute included Freedom Stickers with the phone number of the National Human Trafficking hotline. Volunteers posted Freedom Stickers in convenience store restroom stalls throughout the Twin Cities. The work of training store personnel and posting Freedom Stickers was useful surrounding the Super Bowl festivities and will continue to benefit victims in the days and months to come.
In addition to posting hotline information, IOB put together a booklet with the faces and information of missing children in the area. Volunteers distributed the Missing Children’s Booklet to convenience stores, Uber and Yellow Cab services, as well as Super Bowl Volunteers. Whether a result of the books or some other factor, 15 children from the booklet were recovered.
IOB also partnered with local law enforcement for an online surveillance initiative to find victims in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. A team of 13 volunteers searched online advertising platforms like Backpage and Craigslist to look for sex trafficked women and children. Their efforts led to a total of 38 qualified leads given to law enforcement for follow up, where many cases were initiated. IOB was nominated for the Minnesota Police Department’s Chief’s Merit Award for their outstanding work.
In Our Backyard’s intervention at SB 52 was a wide success and a reason for hope in the movement to end sexual exploitation. While there is absolutely more work to be done, there is a lot to learn from the multi-front approach IOB took for the recovery of Victims. Their victory in Minneapolis shows how effective partnerships with willing volunteers and sincere local leadership can raise awareness and, even more importantly, make a real impact.
An important note: while it is true that there is an increase in trafficking during major events such as the Super Bowl, it’s vital that we also remember that human trafficking is pervasive everywhere and happens 365 days a year.