Minneapolis, MN – On January 21th, 2018 Unicorn Riot attended a “Know Your Rights” training conducted by the Minneapolis Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP). The training was aimed at the sex worker community. They hoped to give community members legal tools as fears of police stings against sex workers intensify during Super Bowl weekend.
The training began with an informational session about Minnesota laws and followed up with a series of roleplays showing how police interactions can play out. Ramona one of the SWOP trainers introduced the training by saying,
We just provide non-judgmental resources. And we believe what would help keep sex workers the safest would be to decriminalize sex work. The scenarios involve sex work, but the information isn’t sex work specific.These go for anyone interacting with law enforcement.” – Ramona on the Sex Workers Legal Training
The Minneapolis SWOP, part of a national justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers and their communities, conducted the training. Their training explained that under Minnesota prostitution laws was that an exchange had to be agreed upon for the charges to be used. “No sexual conduct needs to take place,” according to Andi, another SWOP member, Minneapolis police have shown a “high level of abuse” by allowing the sexual conduct to continue despite already having the evidence available to bring charges.
Ramona said that the increased policing of sex workers in Minneapolis during the Super Bowl was done under the guise of stopping sex trafficking. She agreed that sex trafficking was a problem, but that trafficking spikes around large sporting events was a rumor that doesn’t help support the actual people being trafficked.
Ramona and Andi pointed to a local study from the University of Minnesota tasked with seeing if sex trafficking increased around the Super Bowl:
There is some empirical data to support claims that the Super Bowl, like many other large and localized public events, correlates with an increase in the number of advertisements in the online market for commercial sex in the host city. However, the Super Bowl does not appear to have the largest impact and evidence suggests the impact is short-lived. The data are inconclusive as to the extent of trafficking by a third-party facilitator in relation to the noted increase in online ads for sex.” – Top Line Findings in UofM Study
The SWOP members warned of an increase of online postings coming from police trying to conduct stings, but expects they’d be short lived. They shared information about the increase in massage parlor raids in Minneapolis and worried that strip clubs would be getting raided again too.
Ramona also cited a study by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) which looked at seven large sporting events including Super Bowl 2011, 2009 and 2008. The media predicted anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 sex workers and trafficked people, but the actual outcomes showed no such influx.
In Minneapolis, one task force is spending $1 million dollars to stop sex trafficking during the Super Bowl despite the GAATW’s study showing that trafficking didn’t increase around large sporting events because “short-Term events are not likely to be profitable for traffickers or sex workers,” and that “large sporting events are not only attended by men.”
Ramona joined Andi and led a group of attendees through multiple roleplays to prepare their community for the increased policing around the Super Bowl. They demonstrated how police use intimidation tactics, false kindness, and lies to get their targets to admit guilt. If stopped by the police, they told people to ask “Am I being detained?” In the event the police say no, they suggested trying to leave. If police said they were being detained, the SWOP trainers led people in saying, “I’m going to remain silent. And I’d like to speak to a lawyer.”
Andi and Ramona said that “if police decide they are going to arrest you the chances of talking yourself out of it are slim.” They also said there was no way to ensure a police encounter wouldn’t end in police violence.
Watch the full training below:
Andi and Ramona said that the rumors around increased sex trafficking during the Super Bowl were spread by what they called “Sex Work Abolitionists.” The abolitionists don’t want sex work to exist in any form, from prostitution to strip clubs. Andi and Romana said this was dangerous, because sex workers exist everywhere and no one talks about improving their lives by improving their work life.
Ramona asked that people talk about sex workers in a humanizing way, because they deserve agency over their bodies just like anyone else. They wished everyone a safe Super Bowl week and hoped everyone left with more tools to handle encounters with the police. Unicorn Riot will continue to follow stories around Super Bowl LII.
To help our volunteer operated, horizontally organized, non-profit media organization, please consider becoming a monthly sustainer with tax-deductible micro-donations:
Unicorn Riot reporting on Super Bowl LII: