February 05, 2018 05:28 PM
Dozens of sex trafficking victims on Monday had to leave the safe place they'd found for the past 10 days to return to the same streets they'd escaped.
They had found safe haven at a long-term residential facility for sex trafficking survivors called Breaking Free. Survivors are typically required to sign up for counseling and housing to stay there but for the 10 days leading to the Super Bowl, Breaking Free was able to become an emergency shelter.
The NFL Super Bowl Host Committee, the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, Catholic Benedictine Sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, among other organizations, footed the bill to help Breaking Free buy beds, food and emergency provisions for victims.
Now, the 10 days are over. The day after the Super Bowl is day 11.
"What a heartbreak to tell the women they can't spend the night here. Some of them have infant children," said Terry Forliti, Breaking Free's executive director. Comforters are the only signs the women and children were here.
"Some are going to sleep on the streets, in their cars," Forliti said. "Some are going to have to go back to turning tricks."
Thirty-one sex trafficking victims with babies as young as 6 months and children up to 5 years broke free of the mean streets for those 10 days. Forliti said the youngest victim was 17 and the oldest was 45. All but one were from Minnesota.
"My biggest fear is that they'll be hurt, they might not find somewhere warm," Forliti said. "My fear is they fall back into the life, when we have tried so hard to offer an exit strategy."
Forliti is a survivor herself. She and her staff of survivors were able to hit the streets to look for victims because catholic nuns ran and staffed the shelter.
Forliti said law enforcement officers also sent victims they rescued to Breaking Free. Forliti said the victims filled every bed at her agency, as well as at other nonprofit agencies helping trafficking victims.
She said that overwhelming response shows Minnesota needs a permanent, dedicated sex trafficking shelter in the Twin Cities.
"It makes no sense" for no shelter to exist in a state the federal government considers one of the top 15 states for sex traffickers to buy and sell victims," she said. She believes the 10 days ahead of the Super Bowl gave victims hope.
She hopes they can come back to stay permanently in the safety they found temporarily.
Forliti said authorities arrested dozens of men in sex trafficking stings during the Super Bowl. And she hopes some of those men end up in the "John School," where they'd be taught why their actions to buy sex victimize vulnerable women and children.
Updated: February 05, 2018 05:28 PM
Created: February 05, 2018 04:58 PM
Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company