Sex Trafficking and Community Well-Being Initiative

Sex Trafficking and Community Well-Being Initiative

Sex trafficking and prostitution is a growing concern in the Twin Cities. Intimately tied to poverty, exploitation, and lack of choice, sex trafficking affects women, children, families, and community health. UROC's ongoing Sex Trading, Trafficking and Community Well-Being Initiative is an academic-based initiative on the forefront of tackling the problems related to sex trading, prostitution, and sex trafficking through research. The initiative focuses on the problem at large and how North Minneapolis and other urban communities can take action to end sex trafficking in Minnesota.

The initiative launched in 2011 with a Critical Conversation on sex trafficking. Hundreds of community members voiced their concerns and pledged to take action to stop sex trafficking in Minnesota. UROC Director of Research Lauren Martin, who has led local research on the issue since 2005, is spearheading UROC's initiative by partnering with dozens of organizations, government agencies, individuals, corporations, and researchers.

Current Projects

The UROC team is currently working on several new research projects related to sex trading and trafficking in Minnesota. The web page is in progress, so expect more information and links in the coming months.


Mapping the Demand for Sex with Trafficked Individuals in Minnesota

This is a new research project on the demand for sex with trafficked people in Minnesota that builds on UROC’s previous research. Very little is known about people who purchase sex, including who they are, how they enter the market, and their relationship to sex trafficking operations. Therefore our work fills a major gap in knowledge and practice. The new study will increase our understanding of sex buyers and their broader market patterns and will result in actionable information that can be used to support prevention efforts and current law enforcement practices in combating sex trafficking. We have collected the following data:

  • Interviews with over 150 stakeholders across the state (criminal justice personnel, service providers, and advocates);
  • All cases of prostitution and sex trafficking in the Minnesota Court Information System from 2010-2015;
  • Print news media coverage of prostitution and sex trafficking from 2005-2014.

Our first major report from this study will be released early in 2017. Click here for a sneak peak of some findings from our analysis of sex trafficking and prostitution as covered in print news media from 2005-2014 in Minnesota.


Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl

Questions about sex trafficking and major sporting events have arisen in relation to the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. At the request of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the UROC team reviewed academic publications and analyzed US-based print media coverage on the connection between mega-sporting events and sex trafficking in North America, Europe and South Africa. We found 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, it appears that 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. The team is working on reports and publications with more findings from this study.


Completed Projects


Mapping the Market for Sex with Trafficked Minor Girls in Minneapolis
Research Developed in Partnership with Othayonih Research

Download the full Sex Trafficking report
Download a summary of the Sex Trafficking report

About the Authors

Lauren Martin, UROC director of research
Nationally recognized for her groundbreaking research in the area of sex trading and sex trafficking prevention, Lauren Martin is UROC's director of research. An expert on community engaged research methods, Martin oversees UROC's research projects and grant operations. She is also a researcher with the University's Children, Youth and Family Consortium and Center for Early Education and Development, and is an instructor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She received her doctoral degree in anthropology and historical studies from the New School for Social Research in New York and has been conducting research with community partners since 2006. She is the author of many community and scholarly publications and the principle investigator on several research projects, including “Mapping the Market for Juvenile Sex Trafficking in Minneapolis,” the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) community survey, and a validation study of the NAZ Family Academy.

Alexandra (Sandi) Pierce, President, Othayonih Research
Dr. Alexandra (Sandi) Pierce is an applied sociologist of Onondowagah (Seneca) and European descent. She is the principal investigator and author of Shattered Hearts, the first research report ever published in the United States on the commercial sexual exploitation of American Indian girls and women. Pierce received her master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from the University of Minnesota and is founder and president of Othayonih Research, an independent applied research and evaluation firm. She is a member of the American Psychological Association and the State of Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Forces. Pierce is also an active member of a national coalition of domestic sex trafficking survivor-leaders. For the past 15 years, her work has focused exclusively on exposing and addressing domestic sex trafficking.



Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the initiative’s history?
Led by UROC Director of Research Lauren Martin, the Sex Trading and Community Wellbeing: Research, Prevention and Intervention Initiative is a series of research projects, awareness raising activities, prevention initiatives, and intervention plans on the issue of sex trading and trafficking and its impact on communities. Martin works in collaboration with many stakeholders, including advocates, survivors, police officers, probation officers, residents, policy-makers, and more. The project ethos is to work collaboratively with multiple stakeholders and to do no harm. Based on primary research conducted with over 155 people who trade sex, over 400 other stakeholders and over three years of ethnographic field work, the project seeks to foster consensus and action, based in deep knowledge of the issue. The project has lead to many successful collaborative initiatives such as Kwanzaa’s Northside Women’s Space, a safe drop-in space to promote healing for girls and women involved in sex trading; and Gaining Independence for Females in Transition, a new approach for women on probation for prostitution-related offenses. The project started in 2006, as a community-based participatory action research project designed in response to Northside community concerns about prostitution. It was funded by the Otto Bremer Foundation, the World Childhood Foundation, and the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The work was based at the Folwell Center for Urban Initiatives until fall 2008.

What is the initiative’s primary goal?
The goal is to develop high-quality, research-based information with community-based and action research methods on sex trading, a major challenge facing urban communities. Most importantly, the goal is to put that knowledge to work building consensus and action to improve community wellbeing.

Who are the partners?
Over the years, the project has been conducted with hundreds of partners, including residents, advocates, survivors of sex trading, police officers, policy-makers, organizations, government agencies, and more. They include the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, Breaking Free, Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation, Kwanzaa’s Northside Women’s Space, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, the PRIDE program of the Family Partnership, and many more.

What are the community benefits?
The initiative digs deep into a challenging, hidden, and difficult issue in urban communities. Since communities can act more effectively when they have accurate and grounded knowledge, the benefits are many. In addition to surfacing hidden harms and generating multiple forms of knowledge on sex trading, UROC has designed many projects that have had a positive impact on individuals and communities. The work has also contributed to major policy and legislative work through local, regional, and state government.


Previous work from the initiative

Click on the links below to download a pdf.