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Shining a Super Bowl Spotlight on Human Trafficking

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While merchants peddle Super Bowl gear, human traffickers peddle people.

As we prepare for football festivities, merchants peddle Super Bowl gear and human traffickers peddle people. Though human trafficking is endemic 365 days a year, it is especially rampant on Super Bowl Sunday. This week is the time for us to urge everyone -- in the shadows of the Super Bowl or the streets of your hometown -- to do your part in helping stop the scourge of human trafficking.

"Shining a spotlight on the dark corners"

As President Barack Obama declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, he said:

"Over a century and a half after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, millions remain in bondage -- children forced to take part in armed conflict or sold to brothels by their destitute families, men and women who toil for little or no pay, who are threatened and beaten if they try to escape. Slavery tears at our social fabric, fuels violence and organized crime, and debases our common humanity. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we renew our commitment to ending this scourge in all its forms.

Because modern-day slavery is a global tragedy, combating it requires international action. The United States is shining a spotlight on the dark corners where it persists, placing sanctions on some of the worst abusers, giving countries incentives to meet their responsibilities, and partnering with groups that help trafficking victims escape from their abusers' grip. "

That government and football officials are specifically addressing pimps who peddle people for profit marks progress. Specifically for Super Bowl weekend, the New Jersey Coalition Against Sex Trafficking is building on work by the last three states where the Super Bowl has taken place to implement increased training of law enforcement, raise awareness among community members, and reach out to at-risk kids during the Super Bowl.

I'm pleased to see the Super Bowl spotlight shine on the horrific lost innocence and sexual trauma extant in human trafficking. My hope is that this Super Bowl is a teaching moment for all of us in our daily efforts.

Listening and prioritizing

Feedback from advocates with whom I've worked in the women's community and law enforcement stress the need to reach out to local activists, listen to sex workers and prioritize those seeking help.

Avenging angels swooping in from above are not as welcome as local heroes working with linguistically and culturally relevant resources. Listening and prioritizing are essentials of effective action.

For example, we urge people to call a hotline -- like the National Human Trafficking Resource Center anytime 24/7: 1-888-3737-888​​ or to text to "BeFree" or 233733​​.

That is much easier said than done. Many immigrant women report that they are afraid to call a faceless person and seek help. That's where FaceTime or in-person help is much more likely to yield a conversation about someone's labor or sex trafficking trauma. Many women fear they won't be rescued, or prosecuted for sex crimes if they do. Many men and boys fear institutionalized homophobia in reporting. Many of the same factors that influence rape and sexual violence victims and survivors to keep abuse to themselves are endemic in trafficking victims and survivors' fear of coming forward.

Thus the Super Bowl effort -- and ours at home -- must include a grassroots effort respecting the agency of human trafficking victims and survivors, so that they are empowered to escape and supported as they assist in prosecuting their offenders.

As the anti-trafficking Polaris Project points out:

"vulnerability to human trafficking is far-reaching, spanning multiple different areas such as age, socio-economic status, nationality, education-level, or gender. Traffickers often prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual abuse - conditions that are present in all spheres of society."

In that spirit, respect and empower all victims and survivors.

Helping immigrants abused in the shadows

The fight against human trafficking is not complete without comprehensive immigration reform. Labor and sex trafficking festers in those "dark corners" where undocumented Americans live in the shadows. Fear of deportation silences many victims. I still remember girls unwilling to prosecute abusers for reportable deportable crimes because, they were warned, "you'll be deporting him" -- taking victim-blaming to a whole new level.

Already immigrant women were short-changed in the Violence Against Women Act, when U-visas for battered women were limited in VAWA and postponed to immigration reform.

In my home city of San Francisco, for example, our police chief recently announced that police helped secure approximately 500 U-visas last year. Now that we have run up against the federal cap of 10,000 annual U-visas, we need urgent action for my hometown and yours.

Congress must immediately lift the 10,000 U-visas cap to rescue more immigrants from domestic violence and/or human trafficking and move expeditiously toward comprehensive immigration reform to stop sex and labor trafficking.

We are our sisters and brothers keepers so if you see something, say something. Call the hotline at 1-888-3737-888​​ or to text to "BeFree" or 233733​​ and ask for language resources as needed. Connect victims and survivors to support networks. Urge Congress to lift the U-visas cap and pass immigration reform. Imagine your child, your sister, your brother lost and give the help you'd wish on your most cherished loved one. Help make a day of national revelry for Super Bowl fans one of rescue for victims and survivors of human trafficking.

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