U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a national group of adult club owners teamed up in Minneapolis on Monday to talk about how to identify instances of human trafficking at strip clubs.
ICE's Homeland Security Investigations met Monday with members of Club Operators Against Sex Trafficking, or COAST, as well as officials from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota.
ICE admits it's an "unlikely alliance," but says law enforcement and adult club owners have been working together for a few years now to reach "people who may be among the first to see the shadowy, tell-tale signs of a sex trafficking victim — those working in adult entertainment clubs."
"The goal of this partnership is to inform adult entertainment industry club operators and employees how they can help to recognize and rescue human trafficking victims," ICE said in a statement. "HSI special agents and COAST members have made similar presentations in other cities around the U.S. since 2010."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino, who coordinates efforts to fight human trafficking in Minnesota, called the partnership an "innovative" one.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office is proud to support innovative partnerships, like the one between COAST and Homeland Security Investigations, to help get our message out," she said. "Traffickers in our schools, shopping malls, hotels, clubs, wherever they are, will be found and prosecuted."
ICE said human trafficking is essentially modern-day slavery, and said many are forced to work in the sex industry. Many are minors who are drugged and beaten in order to force them to do that work.
COAST was founded in 2010 by club owner Mike Ocello, as the result of fielding questions from law enforcement officers about a trafficking case.
Minneapolis is one of six cities that a federal, interagency group selected for an increased focus on anti-trafficking efforts. Teams from the departments of Justice, Labor and Homeland Security have been working together under the program to speed up criminal trafficking investigations at the federal level.
ICE said teams are expected to "develop high-impact federal investigations and prosecutions" in those cities.
Other cities selected last year under the initiative are Cleveland;Newark, New Jersey; Portland, Maine; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California.