This week many people here in the US are going to be gearing up for the big Super Bowl game this weekend. With team rivalry flourishing between the New England Patriots and New York Giants, the game will be played out on Sunday in Indianapolis and thousands will be both in attendance or watch it on television. While this game will have no political fallback and amount to very little besides scores of drunken fans and elevated (or deflated) team sprit; Indianapolis has had to make important amendments to a few laws in the buildup to the big day. Most notably, I am speaking of enacting harsher penalties for sex traffickers.
Last year, with the game held in Texas, the Attorney General Greg Abbott discussed this issue stating, “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States”. With the big game drawing people and business seekers from across the US, it is no wonder that traffickers and pimps will also follow the demand.
Building upon Regina’s article from last month, Indianapolis has taken some important steps in preparation for the game. To date, Indianapolis police and church groups have begun training service employees such as hotel workers, as well as taxi drivers in identifying what potential victims of sex traffickers may look like. Similarly, Governor Mitch Daniels has signed a bill to enact tougher penalties for sex traffickers who are caught, hoping it will be a deterrent for pimps thinking of bringing their workers down to Indianapolis.
Recently, the sex trade has been in the headlines with a number of arrests being made from prostitution being pegged to Backpage.com. Petitions on Change.org have asked people to sign in an effort to keep Backpage from advertising underage sex workers. Bringing attention to the ease of online prostitution, police and law enforcement are now using this as yet another tool to identify trafficked children and their pimps.
One man who was involved in pressing Texas to amend it’s sex trafficking laws after last year’s Super Bowl has just written a follow up report about what has been done with the continued momentum one year after the football game. Bob Price writes about his first hand experience in accompanying police on raids to health spas and what impact it is having in Texas. While he applauds the department’s work thus far in addressing such prostitution rings, Price concedes that much more still needs to be done.
As the game looms nearer, on the ground teams are already hard at work to raise awareness about these issues. One unique campaign is being run by an outreach program called S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescence from Prostitution). This organization identifies cheap motels where prostitution is more likely to take place, and talks with managers and owners about what to expect around high risk sporting events. Additionally, they offer to leave free bars of soap for the rooms with the National Human Trafficking hotline printed on them for the when the girls use the bathroom. To hear more about the founder Theresa Flores of S.O.A.P.’s story, you can watch her TED talk here.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where the sex industry is one of the most lucrative businesses to be involved with, coming only second to the arms industry. Additionally, it is unfortunate to report that it is so prevalent in the United States; which is against the commonly held notion that it is a predominantly third world phenomenon.
This weekend I think it will be important for the Super Bowl fans to be a bit more aware of the underside of what this event brings. While I am sure that there will be many bar patrons here in New York who will not register the magnitude of what is taking place below the surface, hopefully the more informed will take a moment of reflection on this problem. While I will inevitably be the wet blanket that will bring this up at our gathering, I think a moment of reality will be necessary in a day consisting of drinking and gouging on chips.–Katherine Peterson is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group focused on theories of development, globalization, and political ramifications of development work. Follow her on Twitter @ktp907