Leading the Charge Against Sex Trafficking

Excerpt Minneapolis Star Tribune January 30th, 2018

Amanda Koonjbeharry has long had a passion for fighting the good fight.

Which is why the soft-spoken leader of Hennepin County's programs for sexually exploited youth now finds herself on the front lines of a statewide effort to crack down on prostitution and sex trafficking heading into next weekend's Super Bowl.

"I've gone through my own adversity in my life,", Koojbeharry said recently.  "I will do anything to advocate for what's right and I don't want to see people suffer."

Authorities see an increase in sex ads and an uptick in activity and that's where Koonjbeharry comes in.  Koonjebeharry co-chairs a committee of 80 volunteers with the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, charged with boosting victim services, outreach and enforcement.  Their hope is that by addressing a potential problem well before Sunday's kickoff, they will not only curb it, but establish a model for tackling the issue that can be used by cities hosting future championship games.

Koonjbeharry's interest in the work stems, in part, from growing up in the predominantly white Twin Cities suburb of Savage as the daughter of immigrant parents from Guyana.  She became interested in working with sexually exploited youth after participating in anti-trafficking work when Minneapolis hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Target Field in 2014.  She then interned at Hennepin County, which led to a job as a senior planning analyst for children and family services.  Currently, she heads up the county's No Wrong Door response plan.  That plan, which provides services to sexually exploited victims, started in 2014 after the state's 2011 Safe Harbor law established that youth under 18 involved in prostitution be treated as victims, rather than as criminals.  "She's been transformational and taken it to the next level," County Commissioner Marion Greene said. 

While many organizations are working on sex trafficking prevention ahead of the Super Bowl, the committee's work, estimated to cost about $1 million, is the only NFL-backed effort.  Many women a girls aren't in the industry voluntarily or are being trafficked by a third party, which makes training employees and volunteers to help them spot sex trafficking so important.  Said Koonjbeharry of the committee's work and the ongoing fight:  "This is something that's staying on people's minds more and more.  I hope the momentum stays after the Super Bowl!"