Headlines, Human Rights, North America

U.S.: Super Bowl Draws Fans, and Human Traffickers

Cléo Fatoorehchi

NEW YORK, Feb 4 2011 (IPS) - This weekend, thousands of people will temporarily migrate to Arlington, Texas, to attend U.S. football’s Holy Grail – Super Bowl XLV. They expect to watch the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, and to enjoy a performance by the Black Eyed Peas during half-time.

What they probably will not think about is the thousands of minors who will also be there, but for a completely different purpose: supplying sex demand.

As James Hawthorne, assistant police chief of the Arlington, Dallas/Fort Worth Area, told IPS, “When there is any big sporting event, whether it is a Super Bowl or basketball game, or any type of large venue, there are people looking to take advantage of people, whether it’s pick-pocketing, bets, scams, counterfeit merchandise, or prostitution.”

The two-year-old Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, headed by the state’s attorney general, has been actively working to raise awareness of this issue. All its partners – local law enforcement authorities, police services, the FBI, local advocacy groups and non-profit organisations, social services – have tried to mobilise the public.

Jay Ratliff, a Dallas Cowboys football player, decided to take part, and has been participating in the “I’m Not Buying It” campaign, launched by the non-profit organisation Traffick911 a few months ago.

This Texas-based organisation works to shed light on the issue of human trafficking of U.S. children, its spokesperson Danielle Capper told IPS. Sex trafficking is not considered prostitution, usually involves children, and is generates about 32 billion dollars a year, she said.


“One of the things that we have been doing with our campaign, and the attention that it has received, is raising awareness that human trafficking is happening here in America, and with American children,” she said.

At least 100,000 children are trafficked in the United States each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

But it is “difficult to quantify how many victims (there are), because this is a crime and an industry that likes to operate underground,” Jerry Strickland, communications director at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, told IPS.

Moreover, “according to the Assessment of U.S Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons, domestic U.S. trafficking is rarely detected when compared to the detected trafficking of foreigners into the United States,” said Fabrizio Sarrica of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In 2000, the U.S. government hailed the adoption of the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, which has been followed over the years by countless measures, both at the federal and state levels, to fight human trafficking. Amongst these measures are the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, the Innocence Lost Initiative.

But this Act focuses on foreigners, and U.S. children continue to be charged for prostitution, according to Courtney’s House Director, Tina Frundt.

The solution, she said, is the Domestic Sex Trafficking Bill, introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney in June 2010, but which was abandoned when the session of Congress expired in December 2010.

Courtney’s House is an organisation founded in 2008 in Washington D.C. to help survivors of child trafficking return to normal life; it has already helped over 500 victims. It provides shelter through a group home programme, as well as emergency and long-term services.

It also has a 24-hour hotline, which is expected to see a rise in calls with the Super Bowl. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC)’s hotline, operated by the non-profit Polaris Project, is also preparing to receive more calls during this period, which will be transferred to local law enforcement officials.

But crucial to diminish sex trafficking during the next Super Bowl is the enrollment of the Super Bowl Host Committee and the National Football League (NFL) in the battle for a better awareness of the danger of human trafficking, activists stress.

A Courtney’s House’s survivor, “A.H”, wrote a letter to the two institutions, asking them to participate in the “I’m Not Buying It” campaign. This letter has been supported by Traffick911 and relayed by the website Change.org.

“NFL and Super Bowl Host Committee … can play a key role in preventing this crime, by dedicating very few of their resources to this issue,” Amanda Kloer, a Change.org editor focused on human rights, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS, told IPS.

But despite the almost 70,000 people who signed the petition, “The Host Committee has never responded to our request to support our campaign” said Capper.

Traffick911 will conclude its campaign with an event on Saturday, bringing together local politicians, sex trafficking survivors and artists.

Observers such as Strickland from the attorney general’s office have faith in these public awareness campaigns, but stress the need to be prepared and alert. “Hopefully, we won’t be needed,” he said.

 
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