The connection between human trafficking and major sporting events has proved to be a rather moot point over recent years. Unfortunately, much of the heat around the debate has been caused by arguments over statistics, rather than arguments about how best to ensure that there isn’t a connection.
Joseph Stalin may not be someone who you’d expect to be quoted in a blog piece about trafficking and sporting events… but here goes: “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”. It’s possible that educated guesses of the number of young women and girls trafficked to World Cups, Olympics and Super Bowls have been overstated. But it’s just as possible that they’ve been underestimated. The point is, however many or few are sexually exploited in the shadows of these events – it’s a tragedy.
In the US, 3.5% of entire annual beer sales come from Super Bowl weekend. All the popcorn eaten, laid end-to-end, would circle the Earth 5.5 times. The real winners are avocados: 13.2 million of them are sold to make guacamole. Given the colossal increases in consumption of everything from nachos to nightclubs, it’s surely inevitable that consumption of commercial sex will follow suit.
For the trafficker, this is the ideal opportunity to exploit victims lured into the sex industry. The women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation at the Super Bowl this weekend can’t be counted in turnstiles like ticket holders. Their length can’t be compared to the circumference of the Earth. They can’t be measured in tonnes. Statistics, no matter how accurate, should ever be a substitute for judgement and common sense. Where there’s an increase in prostitution there’s a massive potential for human trafficking – and that should be enough to inspire action.
Law enforcement authorities in the Super Bowl 2011 host city, Dallas Texas, appear to be taking just such action. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott describes the Super Bowl as “one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States”. A trafficking task-force has been created, and training has been given to airline staff and other key professionals on how to recognise the signs of trafficking. Perhaps even more encouragingly, this concerted effort in the run-up to the Dallas Super Bowl is being used to highlight the fact that 25% of the estimated 100,000 annual victims of trafficking in the US end up in Texas.
But there’s one big piece of the jigsaw missing. Law enforcement, charities and businesses have all stepped forward to respond to the issue, but despite constant pressure the NFL and the Super Bowl Host Committee have refused to take a stand against trafficking. They have declined to help distribute campaigns materials and decided not to even publicly support the efforts that are being made to curb sex trafficking around the event.
Read more about what is and isn’t being done, and join nearly 75,000 people who have signed this petition to call on the Super Bowl Host Committee to stop burying its head in the sand and use some common sense.
By Simon Butcher