Is the Super Bowl the largest child sex trafficking event in the U.S.?
The Big Game is known for the bacchanalia that surrounds it. However, we don't typically think of the illegal prostitution of minors at the same time. It's a buzz kill if ever there was one. But, the Super Bowl probably has a "demand effect" surrounding large events, often sports related, worldwide.
Last year Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, preparing for what he understood to be a major increase in forced, underage commercialized sex (these would be child sex slaves) called the Super Bowl "the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States."
Here's an example from a previous year: A trafficker was arrested and imprisoned for selling two girls, 14 and 18, as "a Super Bowl special." Or there's the story of A.H., who was involuntarily taken to Dallas/Ft. Worth last year where she was beaten, raped and enslaved not far from Dallas Cowboys stadium. Bluntly speaking, these are lost and broken children whose profit value is magnified this week by the Super Bowl.
There is debate among organizations involved in stopping trafficking over the accuracy of claims that the "demand effect" is real. In 2011, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) concluded in it's, report that "an increase in trafficking for prostitution during large sporting events is unlikely" and that a mythologizing of the issue actually distracts from legitimate and thoughtful consideration of other types of trafficking. Rachel Lloyd echoed this concern earlier this week, when she asked whether it matters if trafficking increases during the Super Bowl -- isn't the truth about trafficking bad enough?
Yet studies of events surrounding past Super Bowls, the Olympics and two World Cup games do show increases in both prostitution and trafficking.
Whether you believe the Super Bowl numbers are exaggerated or underestimated, Sunday is an opportunity to raise awareness of and combat all sex trafficking of children.
Let's define trafficking: It is the most fundamental of human rights violations which is comprised of involuntary servitude, slavery, debt bondage, and includes forced child labor, sex trafficking and involuntary domestic labor. Trafficking is not the same thing as sex work undertaken by, for example, adults able to consent. The trafficking I'm referring to here is the enslavement of minors, usually girls, for the purposes of selling sex to adult men. And it is a big business.
We don't get a lot of information about domestic slavery -- even calling it "trafficking" tampens the impact of the words. We would rather think of slavery as something strictly relegated to our past. It is not. The U.S. Department of State estimates that more than 50,000 men, women and children are trafficked into the United States every year (600,000 to 800,000 worldwide.) Of these, 80 percent are girls and women, 70 percent into the sex trade. Those numbers represent the number of people imported. Domestically, at least 100,000 people, mostly girls, are trafficked, mostly for sex, every year. Although there is no clear consensus on the numbers of children, or of girls versus boys, exploited through prostitution nationwide there is consensus that the numbers are large and growing.
Last year, the Super Bowl Committee failed to respond to a Change.org petition requesting it to support an anti-trafficking "I'm Not Buying It" campaign. What would stop them from clearly condemning child sexual slavery loudly and clearly? This takes the idea of burying your head in the turf to shameful extremes. I understand that they are a) not responsible for the trade and b) the last thing they want to associate with the Super Bowl is "human trafficking of children for sex."
This football season, Ashton Kutcher's and Demi Moore's DNA Project (a foundation still going strong despite their marital woes) has teamed up with Adrian Peterson to launch Football For Good, which is raising money to support at-risk kids. So far their campaign has raised $278,136 of a $500,000 goal. Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson has committed to $5,000 per touchdown (Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore will match his contribution, and Victor Ortiz will donate $2,500 per Peterson touchdown). Other participating players include Michael Huff (Oakland Raiders), Roy Williams (Chicago Bears), Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals), Dallas Clark (Indianapolis Colts) and DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles).
On January 5, in preparation for the game, the Indiana Senate passed a bill making it unlawful to arrange for a person to engage in any forced sexual acts. Until then, law only prohibited prostitution and forced marriage, not sexual slavery. The correlation between sex slavery and the Super Bowl isn't just panicky speculation or a prudish morality play. "There are enormous economic benefits of hosting large sporting events such as the Super Bowl, but the disturbing reality is that such gatherings in other states have drawn criminal rings that traffick young women and children into the commercial sex trade," said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.
If you'd rather not think about sex trafficking Sunday, if you just want to watch the game, eat some chili and drink some beer, that's fine. But after the Super Bowl's done, consider doing a few of the following things to help the people, individuals and organizations combating trafficking and help girls and boys live free from violence and sexual slavery.
Portions of this post originally appeared in related article in The Feminist Wire.
Follow Soraya Chemaly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/schemaly