As Super Bowl approaches, trafficking concerns arise

On Sunday Feb. 2, Super Bowl XLVIII will take place at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., attracting thousands of fans to the area as well as to the sex trafficking industry.Pimps will sell the victims of the sex trade to people, primarily young adult males, who flock to northern New Jersey from across the country as Super Bowl festivities rev up. To curtail the epidemic of the sex trade at the Super Bowl annually, it would be useful to look at why our society accepts wild and antisocial behavior in the name of “having a good time” at sporting events. As United States Rep. Christopher H. Smith told The Washington Post, “One Super Bowl after another has shown itself to be one of the largest events in the world where the cruelty of human trafficking goes on for several weeks.” Smith is the co-chairman of the U.S. House Anti-Human Trafficking Caucus. At Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, 10,000 girls and women were trafficked to Miami according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. According to the United Nations, human trafficking, which includes both the sex and forced labor trade, is a $9.5 billion industry in the U.S., and there exist 2.5 million active victims of the trade worldwide at any time. Due to the covert nature of the illicit sex trade, however, reliable statistics are hard to find. The trade is essentially a modern form of slavery in which victims are held against their will. People are often sold by their families or are taken in by pimps, who at first appear to offer them help out of difficult life situations. The average age of girls entering forced prostitution is 12 to 14, according to the FBI. The average life expectancy of a girl after entering this world is only seven additional years. Not everyone forced into prostitution comes from a poor background or a foreign country. The story of Danielle Douglas, a girl who was trafficked by a man she initially met at what she thought was a party at Northeastern University in 2000, is a tale that shows the ugly roots of the sex trade can grow anywhere. Speaking on the pimps that control the lives of girls like herself, she said, “They know everything you do, every minute of the day. [You are] mentally and physically chained.” There are various ways in which groups and law enforcement try to save victims. Phone numbers for a hotline will be posted on soap wrappers in motels around New Jersey where victims may be working, an ingenious idea by the organization Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution, or SOAP. Making arrests of pimps through tracking online classifieds is the main way law enforcement tries to stop this issue. Beyond that, however, people simply must be made aware of this silent scourge. The Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events of the year, so invariably the big game overshadows the issue of human trafficking every year. The tendency to ignore that which is ugly or morally repugnant is just as damaging. Confronting these problems, difficult as it may be, is vital to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable people not just here in America, but across the world.