Super Bowl Sunday is famous for more than just football. This time of year sees a spike in human trafficking, and a spike in awareness to go with it. Trafficking involves selling, buying, and transporting human beings to be exploited in some capacity. It often involves forced prostitution, and victims are controlled through bribery or force. Lots of experts assert that Super Bowl weekend has the highest volume of human trafficking than any other event in the United States. In fact, it’s been a favorite phrase of newscasters and talk show hosts over the past several years. Others say that statistic is untrue, but drawing attention to the issue means more lives saved, so it’s hardly worth disputing. The fact of the matter is that thousands of people are exploited and trapped into this form of modern day slavery each year, and fewer people are aware of that than you’d imagine.
New York and New Jersey police are cracking down as they get ready to host the game this weekend. New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s message for anyone making devious plans is “Don’t even try it.” Christie also said that “intimidation is its biggest element,” which certainly seems to be the case. Victims come from all walks of life and are kept in the cycle through the bullying Christie is talking about. There is no one “type” of person who ends up a victim of trafficking. Girls are forced into the industry from their at an early age, often beginning with sexual abuse by their pimps. Others move to the United States from across oceans under the impression that they’ve securing a nannying or modeling job, and are shocked by the grim reality that awaits them when they arrive.
“You’ve got folks who believe they’re coming to this country for one reason — to purse freedom and liberty and economic opportunity — and yet they are literally enslaved,” said Christie.
Ads offering ways to get help have been placed in Times Square in hopes that victims will see them. Employees at New York and New Jersey airlines and hotels have been trained to pick up on the telltale signs of trafficking this weekend. They’ve been told to watch for people who don’t have control of their own identification, who don’t speak for themselves, and who seem lost or unaware of their surroundings. Girls who are shuttled in for the big game this weekend likely won’t be told that the Super Bowl is going on and may be out of the loop as to where they even are.
New Jersey has formed a Human Trafficking Task Force, which has spent the past year training authorities, non-profits and other community leaders to be something of a united front, discouraging traffickers from coming to the state this weekend. While this prevents a lot of exploitation from actually taking place surrounding the football game, it clearly doesn’t increase in arrests. When traffickers know police are watching, they opt to avoid the area altogether.
It seems that this issue becomes almost “trendy” each January and February and is completely forgotten by spring. Some awareness is better than none, but in reality, trafficking is a year-round crisis, and most people have little idea that it goes on. It’s in every state and every community, and ruins new lives every day.
The industry rakes in $32 billion a year and victimizes somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 children in the U.S. every year. That number is so much more astronomical than anything I could have imagined. According to the Department of Justice, the average age of a child being forced into prostitution is just 13 years old. The specifics are vague because there are so few ways to collect data on the crime. As a bystander, the best way to be of help is to call the National Hotline for human trafficking. That same phone number will be plastered onto motel soap bars and other places victims may easily see them this weekend.
The whole situation, especially in a society where we love to believe that we are so free and in control of our own destiny, is pretty jaw-dropping. Stay aware, and make sure others are too. It’s one small thing we can do to try to help victims take back power of their own lives.