Human trafficking not just a problem at the Super Bowl
Nonprofit organizations seek to stem the flow of human trafficking year-round.
by Bethany Peak
With as many as 400,000 fans descending on New York and New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII, the area expects an economic boom between $500 and $600 million. Hotels, restaurants, bars, car services, and small businesses hope to reap the benefits. Unfortunately, so do human traffickers.
Each year, the Super Bowl is regarded as the single largest human trafficking event in the United States. Human trafficking is the buying and selling of people, usually for forced labor or sex. Victims are beaten, starved, sleep-deprived, drugged, and often tortured into submission. Modern day slavery claims an estimated 27 million victims worldwide and is a $32 billion industry, second only to the drug trade. In the US, there are an estimated 300,000 children at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking and, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the average age of sex-trafficked children in the US is 13 to 14.
Rescue Her, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Euless, Texas, is one of the many groups to respond to this injustice. “When major events like the Super Bowl are put on, the demand soars in that city, and girls are brought in from all over. The stories are unreal. It saddens me for our country that this is the state we are in,” says Josie Carignan, Rescue Her’s president and founder.
Advocacy groups agree, however, that the problem is not the game itself, but the surrounding atmosphere that allows human trafficking to thrive. “Our efforts should not be misconstrued as vilifying the National Football League,” says the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NJCAHT), “but rather acknowledging that unacceptable behavior can and does happen around major sporting events.”
Governmental authorities are joining forces with nonprofit advocacy groups to raise awareness of the problem. “It’s critical that these organizations work together and are ready to respond with the appropriate resources immediately,” says John Ryan, President of the NCMEC, which has supplied photos of children at risk of being sold for trafficking to authorities. The New Jersey Attorney General recognizes the state is a transit hub, where people can move about easily and discreetly, and has responded by organizing a task force to combat human trafficking during the Super Bowl.
Tracy Thompson, Assistant New Jersey Attorney General and chair of the task force, says officials are well prepared to catch traffickers and rescue victims. Several state and federal officials, some undercover, will be working together to make arrests in New Jersey and New York, and approximately 2,700 members of law enforcement, first responders, hospitality personnel, and others have been trained to recognize the signs of sex trafficking.
Several advocacy groups are also working together under the “Blitz the Trafficker” program, handing out fliers with missing children’s photos, New Jersey’s trafficking hotline number, and information about signs of trafficking. The NJCAHT has also partnered with S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), to supply motels with bars of soap with the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s phone number. The coalition hopes victims will find the number and call for help. The NCMEC is ready to pass out “hope bags” to rescued victims, with clothing and other needed items.
Ultimately, the New Jersey Attorney General aims to set up a united front where traffickers avoid coming to the area altogether.
Carignan believes trafficking can be abolished by eliminating demand for it. “It is right here in our own backyard,” says Carignan. “The sad part is that it wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a demand for it. There needs to be a shift of mindset to where buying sex is not ok.” Carignan says Rescue Her focuses on the enormity of the problem one victim at a time. “… [O]rdinary people can make a difference, and as we all take a stand in our community, join together to raise awareness and funds, keep a watchful eye for signs of trafficking, and work to rescue and restore those in need, we can bring an end to this.”
For additional resources about human trafficking, or to learn how you can make a difference, visit www.rescueher.org.