Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is the Super Bowl Fueling Child Sex Trafficking? by Gigi Garber

As reported by CNN correspondent, Emanuella Grinberg, sex-trafficking—even during the Super Bowl—could not be escaped. Volunteers took to the streets on Super Bowl weekend to help inform women in prostitution of alternatives and ways to escape from their current circumstances. During the weekend of the event, several of Miami’s hotels, restaurants, and other businesses experienced a spike in business, as well as a spike in the trafficking of underage girls forced into the sex trade. "Many social service agencies and law enforcement agencies recognize that there was an increase of victims of trafficking during last year's Super Bowl," said Regina Bernadin, Statewide Human Trafficking Coordinator for the Florida Department of Children and Families. "That correlates with research that whenever there's a convention, a concert or a large event, traffickers will bring girls to the area to serve the influx of visitors," she added. And with them comes an increase in the demand for paid sex.

The majority of the girls being trafficked were underage and from all corners of the country. While the Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events of the year, any large scale social event becomes a playground for pimps and traffickers. In an effort to try and reach out to the victims, state and local law enforcement agencies are teaming up with social service agencies to coordinate nighttime outreaches for girls on the street. Over Super Bowl weekend, small teams of volunteers hit the streets looking for girls from Fort Lauderdale to South Beach, and all the way to Hialeah. Volunteers indicated the hard part isn't locating the girls but finding an opportunity to approach them without drawing the attention of their pimps and traffickers.

The operation was aimed at making contact with girls in prostitution by handing out a card with a hot line number for resources on how to get out of "the life”. Encounters were usually brief in order to keep pimps and traffickers unaware. The response is usually not great, but the few girls that do engage in contact are what motivates volunteers to keep up the effort. The operation is also working with hotels to be aware of sex-trafficking operations that take place on their premises and to report it. Hotels have begun contacting authorities if they suspect that any form of sex-trafficking has occurred on their property. This recent level of cooperation has led to new information on other sex-trafficking rings that otherwise may not have been obtained through police efforts alone.

It is a common misconception that the girls engage in prostitution by choice to make money, and are able to come and go as they please. The epidemic of underage sex trafficking isn't just contained to Super Bowl weekend; victims are still out there come Monday morning. Communities must work together in an effort to become more aware of sex-trafficking, especially around large social events such as Super Bowl weekend. Even if only a few girls are reached every year, it is worth our time and commitment as a community to provide a safety net to those girls suffering in a vicious and exploitative environment, which is a detriment to our youth and society as a whole.