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Guest column: Super Bowl a chance to take stand against sex trafficking

Super Bowl LII festivities are well underway, and what a thrill it is to host them right here in Minnesota for the first time since 1992. Even without our Vikings in the NFL's championship game, Minnesotans are celebrating. Fans will be coming to Minnesota from all over the country for the festivities, and family, friends and communities across the state will gather to celebrate and enjoy the big game.

While the Super Bowl is an occasion to enjoy and celebrate with family, friends and community, it is also an important opportunity to stand up for the equal value and well-being of all people in our communities. Any time large numbers of people gather, those who profit from commercial sexual exploitation prepare for the accompanying influx in demand for purchasing people for sexual purposes.

Unfortunately, the Super Bowl is no exception.

Though commercial sexual exploitation long has been considered "normal" in our communities, it causes a great deal of harm. Examples such as strip clubs, escort services, pornography, and various forms of prostitution can disguise ways that people are sold, with disregard to their overall agency and well-being. These sorts of activities also promote the belief that it is OK to exploit and use some people in our communities for the profit and pleasure of others.

Harming some for the benefit of others is a flagrant violation of equality and human dignity, values Minnesotans collectively have defended for a long time.

This Super Bowl, let's make sure to shed light on the way commercial sexual exploitation harms our communities every day. Men have a distinct opportunity to speak out against commercial sexual exploitation. They can model and expect respect for women and people of all identities.

Regardless of who wins the Super Bowl this year, Minnesotans will win a championship if we come together to stand against commercial sexual exploitation — and to promote equality and respect for people of all genders.

Where to go for help

The following organizations are among those in the Northland that provide support to victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Please support these organizations:

• The Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force (facebook.com/LakeCountySexTraffickingTaskForce)

• Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (pavsa.org)

• Life House (lifehouseduluth.org)

• Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center (safehavenshelter.org)

• North Homes Children and Family Services (northhomesinc.org)

• North Shore Horizons (northshorehorizons.org)

• American Indian Community Housing Organization (aicho.org)

In addition, Men As Peacemakers' Don't Buy It Project is designed to support men and their communities in ending the demand for commercial sexual exploitation. For more information on the project, go to dontbuyitproject.org or facebook.com/dontbuyitproject.

Sue Hilliard of Silver Creek Township is the founder and leader of the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force, an all-volunteer organization. Ed Heisler is co-executive director of Men as Peacemakers in Duluth.

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