Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl

San Francisco is gearing up for Super Bowl 50 with plenty of discussions about whether this event will actually benefit the citizens of San Francisco or whether it is more likely to disrupt commutes, displace the homeless and diminish the city’s coffers without any appreciable advantage for Bay Area residents. The debate helps to pass the time for the locals as we prepare for a huge influx of people intent on having a good time in our fair city.

Among those coming for the festivities will be some whose reason for travel is not for their own pleasure but for the amusement of others. These are the young girls and boys who have been caught in the web of sex trafficking.

Their presence among the fans and partygoers may not be obvious; in fact, they may barely see the light of day. Among the victims will also be Bay Area residents, whose pimps are only too eager to take advantage of the increased sex-for-hire population.

Their purpose is to serve others in the shadows. In this world, they exist only to make money for their pimps. They surrender their bodies for the sexual gratification of those able to pay the right price, and too often they lose their souls as well.

The Super Bowl and other professional sporting events draw large crowds —mostly male — giving organized crime easy access to an audience that might easily be seduced into engaging a prostitute amidst the anonymity, and drug- and alcohol-fueled exuberance, of the occasion. Of course, some travel to these events precisely because they know that sex will be readily available.

According to some experts, the Super Bowl is the largest human trafficking event of any year.  Others contend that, for those being exploited, Super Bowl Sunday is just another working day.

Regardless of the day, trafficking victims have to turn a certain number of tricks to earn a meal and avoid a beating. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if children trapped by sex trafficking have some days when they are required to service fewer perpetrators than others. What matters is that they are enslaved—their bodies and lives are no longer their own.

We know that some groups of children and adolescents are more vulnerable than others to being pulled into the sex trade and that foster children are prime targets for pimps. Children whose parents have been unable to care for them do not have the security that comes from being well loved. When they are repeatedly moved from one foster home to another, their sense of being unloved and unlovable only grows.

It is hardly surprising that the attention and gifts of a pimp easily convince them that they have—at long last—found someone who will love and care for them. This may be especially true if the pimp matches the image of a father figure. There are many misfortunes in the lives of foster children—the fact that physical neglect leaves them vulnerable to sexual exploitation is among the most tragic.

Whether truth or urban legend, the idea that the Super Bowl is among the most lucrative venues for sex trafficking has brought public attention to a problem that too often lurks in the shadows. We remain confounded by sex-for-hire. Too frequently, we blame the victims, forgetting that most have barely crossed the threshold between childhood and adolescence, with some still children by any measure.

If all of the attention generated by the Super Bowl helps to bring attention to the sexual exploitation of children, that is a good thing. If we look away the following Monday and ignore the problem over the coming year, we should hang our heads in collective shame.

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Toni Heineman
About Toni Heineman 15 Articles
I am licensed as a Clinical Social Worker and Clinical Psychologist and serve on the Clinical Faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF. I am the founder and Executive Director of A Home Within, and the author of numerous articles on identifying and meeting the emotional needs of children, youth, and young adults in foster care.

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