The state lacks transparency on the extent of the problem
A sex trafficking sting in northern Minnesota resulted in six arrests, including two men who were working on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, the Bemidji Pioneer reported. They have been fired.
Last February, a similar sex trafficking sting resulted in seven arrests, and again at least two of them worked on Line 3.
In both stings, law enforcement set up a phony sex advertising website and arrested men who arrived to arranged meeting, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said.
Out of the two stings, Line 3 workers represent 30 percent of those arrested. It’s a small sample but it seems like a high number.
The state of Minnesota has failed to provide needed transparency and accountability for Line 3-related sex trafficking. The very structure is flawed. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) required and approved Enbridge’s Human Trafficking Prevention Plan. But the plan has no teeth and no one is responsible for follow up.
What’s the point of requiring a plan if no one is going to enforce it?
This blog has written on this issue extensively. Much of what follows has been written before, but it bears repeating.
Throughout the PUC’s lengthy Line 3 review, Indigenous peoples, tribes, and their allies raised concerns about how large construction projects such as Line 3 could increase drug and sex trafficking in communities near the pipeline’s 337-mile route. Sex trafficking is of particular concern to Native peoples as Indigenous youth and women are disproportionately affected by human trafficking, part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives (MMIW-R) epidemic.
According to Line 3’s environmental impact statement (EIS)” “The addition of a temporary, cash-rich workforce increases the likelihood that sex trafficking or sexual abuse will occur.”
We now have information from two sex trafficking stings about the risks. A grant application from Thief River Falls-based VIP (Violence Intervention Project) said the program has seen “an increase in calls and need for services” since Line 3 work began.
The system is holding individual arrestees accountable, but not Enbridge or other Line 3 contractors who have a responsibility to the community.
Some might argue that we don’t hold companies accountable for their employees’ crimes. Line 3 is no ordinary project. It’s brought thousands of out-of-state workers to the area. The risks for trafficking are real. I wonder if Enbridge faced significant fines for Line 3 worker’s human trafficking arrests if it might not do a better job at prevention?
Enbridge and a union representative bristled at suggestions their workers would engage in sex buying. They acknowledged that sex trafficking was a problem in the broader community, but denied any unique connection between sex trafficking and Line 3.
If that was the case, they shouldn’t have had a problem with a reporting requirement on arrests. The PUC never considered it.
During Line 3 hearings, Enbridge staff promised to give Line 3 opponents a draft Human Trafficking Prevention Plan to review before the PUC’s final vote, according to Brent Murcia, one of the Youth Climate Intervenors involved in the process. Enbridge didn’t keep that promise, which precluded needed public scrutiny.
The PUC issued Line 3’s Certificate of Need without requiring Enbridge to have an approved Human Trafficking Prevention Plan. Instead, it required Enbridge to develop such a plan. It required Enbridge to coordinate with “the Department of Commerce, the Minnesota Human Trafficking Taskforce, MIAC [Minnesota Indian Affairs Council], and all Minnesota Tribes that wish to participate.”
Enbridge didn’t follow directions. It coordinated with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s (BCA’s) Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force instead of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force.
The PUC didn’t seem to care or even notice, and it was in the PUC’s order. It seems the PUC just wanted to check a box and didn’t care what was in the box.
The Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force “is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Health Sexual Violence Prevention Program and the Minnesota Department of Health Safe Harbor Program,” its website says.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprenhension’s Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force includes investigators from St. Paul and Minneapolis police departments, Anoka and Hennepin County sheriff’s offices, Homeland Security Investigations and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, its website says.
Not to say one is better than the other, but they are two different bodies with different expertise. One assumes the PUC had a reason for naming the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force in its order as an important party at the table.
Enbridge’s approach to writing the Human Trafficking Prevention Plan wasn’t collaborative. It didn’t convene a meeting of interested parties to draft it. Instead, it wrote the plan itself and circulated it among the required parties for comment.
Enbridge didn’t even accept all suggested changes.
The BCA’s task force asked Enbridge to offer human trafficking prevention training for local authorities in addition to its own workers. Enbridge said no.
No negotiations. End of story.
The Fond du Lac Band wrote that it wasn’t clear what Enbridge meant by “Zero Tolerance” and asked for details. In what seemed to be dismissive response, Enbridge sent Fond du Lac a link to its 34-page Statement on Business Conduct.
Problem is, the word “Zero Tolerance” appears nowhere in the document.
Enbridge developed human trafficking awareness training for workers, but information was thin. This section ran barely over 400 words.
“This training program was developed by a leading human trafficking expert in Minnesota and in coordination with the Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking Task Force, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and other interested parties,” the plan said.
The plan doesn’t name the leading “expert.” There are no details on what’s in the training or how long it runs.
The PUC rubber stamped the deeply flawed and empty plan. And it doesn’t have to answer for it.
Healing Minnesota Stories emailed PUC Executive Secretary Will Seuffert asking whether the Commission was concerned about the sex trafficking arrests of Line 3 workers in February.
He responded that as a quasi-judicial body: “… neither I nor any staff member can speak for any of the Commissioners, and they speak through their written orders. The agency cannot provide any explanation beyond what is included in the written orders.”
The PUC approved a weak plan and acts as though it has no responsibility for whether it works or not.
Among the painful realities of this process is remembering the massive amount of public time and energy that went into trying to convince the PUC to take Line 3’s human trafficking risks seriously. Native people living in northern Minnesota would get up before sunrise and carpool with friends to arrive at the PUC for a morning meeting. They participated in many public hearings near and far.
And for what? No fault of theirs or their allies, but it made no significant difference.