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Human Trafficking and The Super Bowl

For many, hearing the words “Super Bowl” conjures thoughts of fantastic football, fabulous food, fun with friends, and flamboyant commercials. As for us Houstonians, hearing that “Super Bowl LI” is coming to our town may elicit these sentiments and some not so happy ones, like the thought of traffic at any hour given the growing construction! Despite the numerous associations we make with this event, many of us would probably never link the Super Bowl to an issue like Human Trafficking.

Surprisingly, this is not a new topic of discussion rather this form of slavery, Human Trafficking, is a reality that many people come face to face with every day. Given the persistent growing concern, some people have associated the Super Bowl with being the largest human trafficking event in the world, however the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (2011), debunked this idea. Talking about the incidents of human trafficking and the big game has been somewhat controversial as many people believe that the Super Bowl is getting a bad reputation for something that the NFL is not purposefully associated with or promoting. Rather, the polarisproject.org states that human trafficking is an issue that occurs 365 days a year, not only during the Super Bowl.  Regardless, it appears that human traffickers are using this platform as a way to sexually exploit others to make a substantial profit.

The author of In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do to Stop It (2015)Nita Belles, clarified that at any given time about 30% of classified advertisements posted online are selling sex, however in previous years leading up to the Super Bowl this number drastically increased to about 300%. In addition, Miller, Kennedy, and Dubrawski (2016) not only found an increase in the number of online advertisements around the time of the Super Bowl, but a rise in the number of online ads also occurred during the weeks leading up to the time of other large events, like the Formula One Grand Prix. Although, we know that these ads are more than likely selling sexually based services, posters cannot explicitly advertise because then they could be arrested.

It is important to note that prostitution and human trafficking are not necessarily the same rather three factors must be present with human trafficking: force, fraud, and/or coercion. Specifically, a person may choose to engage in the sex trade; however, those who are considered trafficking victims have not made that choice. It is by force, fraud and/or coercion that they are selling sex.

It is essential to understand that there is no specific demographic that determines who is/can be trafficked, anyone is susceptible. According to the humantraffickinghotline.org, those who are at greater risk of becoming trafficked: women, children, undocumented individuals, individuals who have experienced violence and trauma, homeless adults, homeless youth, and runaways. Disturbingly, Estes & Weiner (2001) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force go on to report that about 90% of homeless youth and runaways, 40% of them being LGBT, will be forced to engage in the sex trade industry.

Hearing these statistics can be alarming. Education and awareness are paramount to help put an end to Human Trafficking.

I recently had the privilege of attending a private screening of Trafficked, a screenplay written by Siddharth Kara, in which he states that the “sex trafficking industry alone made over 100 billion dollars last year more than Google, Intel, Microsoft, Nike, & Starbucks combined”. When looking at this in the context of Houston hosting the Super Bowl, Visithoustontexas.com reports that there will be over one million visitors including locals partaking in the festivities, which are said to bring about 350 million dollars of revenue to our city. Human traffickers may see the Super Bowl or any large scale event that has an influx of visitors with money ready and willing to be spent, as an ample opportunity.

So when you gather together to watch The Atlanta Falcons hopefully, fingers crossed, beat The New England Patriots, remember Human Trafficking does not start or stop with the Super Bowl, it is occurring every single day, not just overseas, or in New York or across the border, but it is happening in our city, towns, communities, and neighborhoods. Let’s join together and help put a stop to all Human Trafficking by learning to recognize the warning signs via https://polarisproject.org/recognize-signs, reporting incidents to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888, and/or reporting to the local law enforcement Vice Division at 713-308-8600. Also, you can learn more about what is being done in our city to help combat Human Trafficking at  http://humantraffickinghouston.org/houston-area-council-to-combat-human-trafficking/

Posted by Angelic G. Setchell, M.Ed., LPC on 25 Jan 2017

About the author

Anti-Violence Program Specialist, The Montrose Center