When most people think about the Super Bowl, parties, finger foods, and funny commercials come to mind, but not human trafficking. Yet cities hosting major sporting events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, and the Super Bowl have been surrounded by increases in prostitution and human trafficking.
Sporting events attract thousands of visitors to the host cities, and millions of dollars in revenue are infused into the city’s economy. The combination of money and potential customers draw traffickers to these host cities.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime provides that the purpose of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, or similar practices. Sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking.
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that there have been an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 sex slaves in the U.S. since 2001. The DOJ also estimates the average age of a trafficked victim is 12 to 14 years old.
Educating the public and training law enforcement is important in combatting sex trafficking. Today, most solicitation occurs online and during each week of major sporting events, website solicitation skyrockets.
Indianapolis, Indiana, which hosts the Indianapolis 500 and the NCAA Final Four events, has seen significant increases in trafficking. In 2012, Indianapolis was also host to the Super Bowl. A few days before the Super Bowl, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a bill that increased the penalty for forcing an underage person into the sex trade to up to 50 years in prison.
This year, New Orleans was host to the Super Bowl. New Orleans is a major trafficking city in the United States because it sits on the I-10/I-12 corridor between Houston and Atlanta. New Orleans is also a port city, which allows for traffickers to easily transport Americans who have been forced into the business.
With a major sporting event in New Orleans, the potential for trafficking was relatively high, and the city took necessary precautions. In 2006, the Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force was established. This task force is comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as faith-based and nongovernmental organizations. Prior to the Super Bowl, the task force met regularly in hopes of increasing trafficking arrests and rescuing victims.
Before the day of the Super Bowl, efforts by the task force had already paid off. On the Thursday prior to the big game, at least eight men had been booked on sex trafficking charges and five female victims had been rescued. These cases are investigated jointly by the New Orleans Police Department, State Police, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI.
Many individuals and organizations also took part in raising awareness on human trafficking. Accompanied by city officials, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle appeared on a public service announcement prior to the Super Bowl. This announcement can be viewed at http://www.neworleansdreamcenter.org/freenola.
The public service announcement provided a hotline number staffed by the Polaris Project, a leading organization in the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Polaris Project initiatives include pushing for stronger federal and state laws, operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888), conducting training, and providing vital services to victims of trafficking.
The Polaris Project rates each state on a scale of one to four—with one being the best. Twenty-one states, including North Carolina, have been rated as a “Tier One” State, having “passed significant laws to combat human trafficking.” However, states such as Wyoming, Arkansas, Montana, and South Dakota have been evaluated as “Tier Four” states. The Polaris Project has named these states the “Faltering Four,” claiming “these states have made minimal efforts to enact a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking, and should actively work to improve their laws.”
Although public awareness on human trafficking has increased, the reality is that human trafficking incidents occur daily. Preventing and deterring human trafficking requires tougher legislation, even in states that have already passed significant trafficking laws, and continued efforts by individuals and organizations around the country.