Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl

Via National Public Radio | Morning Edition

For the last several years, every city that has hosted the Super Bowl has waged an aggressive campaign against sex trafficking. David Greene talks with Marc Chadderdon, a criminal investigator in Minnesota.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. There's a dark side to the Super Bowl. America's biggest sporting event may also be America's biggest sex-trafficking event. Out of town fans, drinking, partying in hotels in a new city, it all creates opportunities for exploitation. Now, whether the statistics bear out or whether this is just a narrative is an open question. But in Minnesota, where the big game is this Sunday, authorities are taking no chances. The state has ramped up its campaign to prevent sex trafficking. And this is a crime that Marc Chadderdon knows very well. As a criminal investigator, he's carried out numerous sting operations across Minnesota over the years aimed at busting traffickers and also rescuing victims. I should say, what's about to come could disturb some listeners. I asked Chadderdon to describe the victims he's encountered.

MARC CHADDERDON: More often than not, you have an at-risk youth who is a runaway, maybe truant, and they maybe get arrested for small things - shoplifting, survival-type things. And then someone's nice to them. It isn't "The Abduction." It's not like the movie "Taken." It's that somebody's nice to them, meets them at the mall or a public place, maybe takes them and buys them a few trivial things or gets their hair done and spends a little money on them. And these victims view this person as a boyfriend. That's somebody who's been nice to them. And then after a period of time, they switch to, you know, Baby, I've spent all my money on you. You need to do something for me. And that's where they may take them to a truck stop and say, start knocking on doors and don't come back till you make $500. But they are still protective of that person. And that's the difficulty with law enforcement, as they've probably came from a background where they have negative experiences with social services and law enforcement, and they're protective of their trafficker.

GREENE: You mentioned young girls. How young can we be talking about here?

CHADDERDON: The youngest I have encountered, we had a Guatemalan girl that was brought to southern Minnesota, and she was 9 years old and going to be sold by her father.

GREENE: Nine years old?

CHADDERDON: Nine years old. And that's in rural Minnesota. And her sister had already been brought up here and sold. And the sad part is in Guatemala that the message is there that there's a market and that we want to buy kids for sex in the United States.

GREENE: So you'll find a truck stop or a place like that where there are girls who are making money for someone who they have developed a relationship with. What is your next step? How do you deal with this?

CHADDERDON: One, we have to be understanding and take a victim-based approach. If we encounter them during a sting operation where we've brought them into custody to try to identify them, they're hostile, they're angry toward us. And so the state of Minnesota has regional navigators that we can call out to assist us in providing resources. There's beds available. They'll help them with employment, even transportation to try to get jobs. But even that, I've learned things through this. One female I encountered, she wanted to quit, and we really wanted to help her. Well, we had a new Wal-Mart distribution center that was in the area, and we said, we will help you if you want to quit doing this. And she said, don't think I haven't thought of that. But, she goes, I've been doing this 10 years, and what am I going to put down for work history? And that's kept her from applying 'cause she had nothing to put down.

GREENE: Is this - obviously, I mean, I think our listeners are going to hear some of the stories you've been describing and wish there were a way to just stop this from happening. What are some of the signs that we can all look for...

CHADDERDON: Sure.

GREENE: ...That might be a warning sign?

CHADDERDON: Absolutely. And the first thing we say, if you see something, say something. A lot of times, a trafficker will control the movements of an individual. And so you could say this at a traffic stop, at a doctor's appointment, at the school, saying, hey, there's an older individual around this female. She's controlling movement. We also look for - when we do a traffic stop, anyhow - we would ask - a lot of times, the victim, once separated, will not even know where they are or where they're going or the real name of the individual that may be driving them. We see that they're carrying large amounts of cash, or we're seeing hotel and motel keys. Prepaid VISA cards and multiple cellphones is also another key thing we look for.

GREENE: Multiple cellphones?

CHADDERDON: A lot of times, a trafficker and the females will use a burn phone for answering ads that are placed on the Internet, and then they have their own particular phones.

GREENE: The sting operations that you carry out, I mean, how do they work?

CHADDERDON: Well, a lot of times, we'll place an ad online through a social media site. One of the main ones across the country is Backpage, but there are many, many more. We'll place an ad online, and even placing one ad in relatively small towns, we can have a hundred men call that one ad. And we've also found that basically the individuals we've arrested is a good makeup of our community. We've had every age, every race. We arrested a cop out of Texas. We've had teachers, we've had department of corrections workers, a pastor. Every socio-economic background you can think of, we have encountered doing this.

GREENE: Do you feel like you're making progress?

CHADDERDON: I do. And it's difficult because this type of a crime, you need to be proactive. And it's expensive to be proactive. But that is leading to calls coming in, and we're using the resources the state has provided to try to help these kids.

GREENE: That was Marc Chadderdon. He's a criminal investigator in Minnesota.

 

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