By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Human trafficking is selling sex by anyone under the age of 18 and the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Victims are often coerced into the illicit trade through false promises and traffickers typically target victims who are vulnerable.
The trafficker typically gains the trust of an unsuspecting victim during a grooming stage where the victim subsequently finds herself in a situation that it is difficult to escape. Traffickers commonly use threats of violence and control of the victim’s personal property, such as money or passport, to prevent her from escaping.
Between 100,000 and 300,000 US Children Are at Risk of Becoming Involved in Sex Trafficking
Many victims of human trafficking are under the age of 18. The Institute for Sport & Social Justice estimates that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are at risk of becoming involved in sex trafficking in the United States.
[Related: Using Technology to Combat Human Trafficking]
The Super Bowl, along with other major sporting events, brings many thousands of people to the host city, providing an opportunity for sex trafficking to flourish. Indeed, in early 2011, the Texas Attorney General shocked the public by announcing that the Super Bowl was the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.
According to Reuters, arrests of pimps running underage sex rings have been reported at the Super Bowl nearly every year. Young girls are trafficked around the country to meet up with clients on the internet and in hotels and strip clubs. Prior to the 2017 Super Bowl, 750 people were arrested in a nationwide sex trafficking sting.
Reuters also reported that 1.5 million people in the United States are victims of trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation. The majority are children, according to a 2017 U.S. Senate report published last year.
Human Trafficking Search reported that at the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, a man was arrested for selling a 14-year-old girl online listed as a Super Bowl special for $300.
Each year, there is a collaborative effort by law enforcement to address human trafficking at the Super Bowl. In 2020, during Super Bowl Week in Miami, nearly 200 people were arrested for sex crimes including 157 arrests for prostitution, 39 for human trafficking or being an accessory to human trafficking, and eight for soliciting sex.
Awareness Campaign Ahead of the 2021 Super Bowl
This year, the Super Bowl is scheduled for February 7, in Tampa again. Consistent with past years, there is an ongoing campaign to stop human trafficking around the event. The awareness campaign, which was reported by Fox News 13 in Tampa, includes signage on billboards, buses, in schools, and videos on social media to make the public aware of the crime.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister told ABC Action News that “we’re meeting with Uber drivers. We’re meeting with the hospitality industry, the adult entertainment industry, the airport. We’re educating county employees.”
The Tampa Police Department is also taking an active role to address the problem by bringing in a non-governmental organization to accompany police officers when they respond to human trafficking calls. The idea is to ensure that victims have someone to talk to if they do not feel comfortable speaking with law enforcement.
Human trafficking occurs every day in the United States. The Super Bowl is just one event where law enforcement and local governments can play an active role in creating public awareness; that in turn can have a positive impact on reducing human trafficking.
Everyone – from hotel staff, taxi drivers, law enforcement, medical personnel, and airport workers – has an important role in watching for signs of human trafficking and reporting all suspicious activity. Such activity that may be associated with human trafficking should be reported to local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or via text at 233733.