Special to the Catholic Herald
One of the largest-scale efforts to fight human trafficking at the Minneapolis Super Bowl on Feb. 4 is coming from just across the St. Croix River into the Diocese of Superior, and Catholics are involved at the local, state and national level.
Behind the effort is the recently formed, Hudson-based coalition Casting Light, which has been gaining both traction and members since the area Super Bowl push started – and with it fears of human trafficking at an astronomical level – although they point out the problem will not go away locally after the final whistle.
Among other initiatives, the coalition has found a way to make direct contact with trafficking victims.
“We have purchased soaps for the hotels in Hudson with stickers on them to promote emergency contact info (national hotline) for any trafficked individuals. These are going to be handed out prior to the Super Bowl along with a brief training for the desk workers and housekeeping staff for identifying signs of human trafficking,” coalition members said, noting there are many hundreds of hotel rooms in Hudson, and all are full for the Super Bowl weekend.
The hope is that victims can be offered an escape route if they are freshening up for an unwanted sexual encounter, even if the perpetrator is in the next room.
Eight volunteers, at least one of whom had been trafficked herself, helped put these packets together and distributed them in a meeting on Jan. 17, a little more than two weeks before the Super Bowl.
Officials also showed a video of the origin of the Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution project and how the hotel trainings can impact lives.
The overall effort is led by Theresa Flores, a Catholic who has worked with this S.O.A.P. project at various locations nationally – making recent Super Bowls a prime focus – and has spent time in Hudson helping the project get going here. A victim of human trafficking, she brings that unfortunate experience to her work to end the practice.
Casting Light sponsored a recent community education session in Hudson, where the lead speaker was from a police task force in Minneapolis. About 100 people from diverse backgrounds attended, including many from a motorcycle club that is working to protect youths from sexual abuse.
Officers said Hudson is on their radar as a hotbed for trafficking. They said it is a common practice for youths to arrive at the international airport in Bloomington and be transported to Hudson for illicit sex at some hotels and private residences. Truck stops in the area were once a place for perpetrators to pick up the children, and even now they are often dropped off there and driven to perpetrators’ homes, they said.
Holy Cross Sr. Celine Goessl has worked with Flores to fight human trafficking at the national, regional and state level.
“I have just finished my 80th presentation on the topic and would like to get (more) involved in the Superior Diocese, since my provincial house is in Merrill,” Sr. Celine said. “Both Sr. Kathy (Lange) and I are working almost full time on making the people, especially those in Wisconsin, aware that this happens in all 72 counties in our state, and we have been active in watching for activity during our home Packer games.”
Both sisters plan to attend the JuST Faith Summit, a trafficking awareness conference taking place June 20-22 at Bethel University, St. Paul.
One of the groups the Casting Light coalition recently made plans to partner with is the pro-life Options for Women, which has a chapter in River Falls that includes members of St. Bridget Parish.
Casting Light is also looking to partner with other organizations and become a more permanent fixture in the community.
“We are currently working with a consultant who is helping us lay out a more ongoing structure for the coalition and assist us in forming a board and going through the necessary steps in becoming a full-fledged nonprofit,” the coalition said in a statement.
Individual parishes are also doing their part to spread awareness.
At a Wednesday night session shortly before the Super Bowl, five officials from St. Patrick’s, Hudson, spoke to religious education students about how to recognize human trafficking and what to do if they encounter it, said Fr. John Gerritts, pastor of the parish and one of the speakers.
Casting Light has a new 24-hour helpline, 715-410-0943, to offer emergency assistance to those seeking resources for victims. They provide access to emergency care, counseling and other services to those in need.