Human Trafficking: Dark Side of the Super Bowl

by Mike Taylor

Starting in mid-January, consumers in every state are inundated with advertisements promoting the Super Bowl and the activities that traditionally surround it. This crowning season finale for fans of professional football involves viewing parties, special game day food, speculations on the popular half time commercials and general celebration of America’s most popular sport.

What most people don’t realize is that the Super Bowl has a dark side, as the impetus for what is commonly known as the largest incident of human trafficking in the United States.

With the influx of several hundred thousand tourists, most of which are male, large sporting events such as the Super Bowl become an ideal location for human traffickers to make money by exploiting their victims. Because of the increased security measures required of such events, law enforcement in the past has been stretched fairly thin, taking some of the focus off of other illegal activities such as the sex trade, although every year, new measures are put in place to bridge that gap.

Unfortunately, large-scale event sex trafficking is a subject that is not often discussed or even very well addressed, leading many to write it off as a resurfacing Super Bowl urban legend. However, sex trafficking is a $9.5 billion dollar industry and although it thrives on shadiness and secrecy, there is little doubt that those involved are going to take their business where they are most likely to find customers all in one place.

One of the main concerns surrounding the problem is the lack of awareness. In an effort to combat this, law enforcement has teamed up with established anti human trafficking groups in order to both shine a light on the issue as well as educate people on how to spot potential victims and perpetrators in the weeks leading up to football’s biggest day.

In the past several years, Super Bowl officials have taken early preventative measures in order to combat opportunistic human traffickers. For instance, shortly after the announcement of the location for the 2014 Super Bowl was made, The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking trained over 200 volunteers to engage hotel managers in anti-trafficking efforts and awareness. Law enforcement, airport employees and hospitality workers were similarly trained in how to spot the signs of illegal transactions or people being held against their will.

Local churches handed out fliers educating people on the signs of illegal activity as well as providing numbers for rescue organizations. High School students were given training on how to avoid dangerous situations and local task forces began monitoring the increasing escort ads on sites such as Backpage.com.

During the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Indiana, there were similar outreach programs and there is sufficient evidence to show that not only did the increased awareness and security reduce the number of traffickers coming to the area, it also had far reaching effects in terms of public education.

Because it is an easily hidden crime and because so much of it goes unreported, it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of trafficking incidents in a given year or at a specific event.  This prompts disputes about whether or not events, such as the Super Bowl actually cause a spike in the sex trafficking trade.

However, between the testimony of former sex slaves and the amount of evidence that comes to light with every Super Bowl season, it is enough for officials to launch coordinated efforts to train those who might come in contact with customers or victims. Whether or not you are a skeptic, few would argue that any opportunity to educate the public about sexually exploited women and children is a negative thing.

Human Trafficking is a problem 365 days a year and it affects up to 300,000 women and children in the U.S. Globally, the number reaches in the millions. The average age for a girl held captive is only 12. Putting a stop to it requires the awareness and action of every American.

The Polaris Project, a leading organization in the fight against modern day slavery, encourages all community members to “look beneath the surface in all situations they encounter and to be vigilant for potential instances of human trafficking.” Do your part by educating yourself on the red flags and indicators of human trafficking. Through awareness and community efforts, you can help put an end to one of the world’s worst and most exploitative industries.

Mike Taylor is the Online Outreach Coordinator for Desert Solace, a residential treatment facility to help men of all ages who are struggling with pornography and sexual addiction.

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