New report surveys sex-buying habits in Minnesota

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MINNEAPOLIS — Researchers have completed a unique study of sex trafficking in Minnesota that could set the stage to develop the country's most in-depth model to combat the trade.

The University of Minnesota's Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center used a qualitative approach to better understand the patterns of sex buying in Minnesota, interviewing more than 150 social service personnel, law enforcement officials and prosecutors in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

"This was not a prevalence study," said Lauren Martin, the study's lead researcher, in an interview Tuesday, Aug. 1. "This was about getting a lay of the land in Minnesota to better understand all the different markets and how sex buyers approach those markets, with a qualitative view."

Martin said several key patterns were established in the study. Demographically, sex buyers are predominantly middle-aged, married, white men from across the entire state, which is representative of Minnesota's population.

Buyers often don't purchase sex near their home; rather, they tend to travel 30 to 60 miles to help protect their anonymity. This travel tends to be done during the work day, either before or after work or during a lunch break.

But while sex buyers may have tended to fit a certain demographic, Martin said law enforcement officials were quick to point out it's not just middle-aged white men purchasing sex. Interviewees also shared stories of women and people of color being arrested in sting operations.

"Our interviews, particularly with law enforcement... (they) said they were surprised with the level of demand (for sex purchasing) they saw during sting operations," Martin said. "When they posted ads, they would have lots and lots of calls, which they said was surprising, especially in small towns."

To read the full report, go to the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center's website.