As much as I enjoy watching sports on TV, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to watch the Super Bowl. Not because Super Bowl and “off season” are synonymous for my hapless Detroit Lions, but because, in the words of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Super Bowl is “commonly known as the single largest human trafficking event in the United States.” While you and I watch the game from our comfortable couches, “working girls” transported to the host city are expected to sleep with as many as 25 to 50 men a day.
For many of us, the ugliness of human trafficking is something that happens far beyond our borders where poverty forces women to do whatever it takes to earn money. Unfortunately, this is indeed the reality in many developing countries. At Bethany Christian Services, we were compelled to establish Safe Not Sold (www.safenotsold.org) to provide foster care for children who are trafficked. In Ghana alone, for example, 600,000 children are trapped in child labor, including the sex trade.
But our own dirty little secret is that the influx of “fun loving” sports fans heading to the Super Bowl creates a huge demand for the services of pimps and their often-reluctant women. According to one former prostitute, pimps expect big numbers from their girls during the Super Bowl, and if they don’t deliver they are often beaten, tortured, and raped.”
And when I say girls, I’m not generalizing. According to Nathan Wilson, whose Project Meridian Foundation helps identify traffickers and their victims, 1.6 million children have been caught up in America’s sex trade. In a story almost too sordid to believe, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a 14 year old girl was offered as a “Super Bowl Special” when the event was held in Tampa in 2009. Isolated case? Not according to attorney and author John Whitehead who contends “the average age of girls who enter street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, with some as young as nine.”
Even as teams and fans get set to travel to New York and New Jersey before heading out to MetLife Stadium for this year’s NFL extravaganza, law enforcement officials and advocacy groups are raising awareness with area businesses on how to spot trafficking and what to do about it. It’s a sad state of affairs when groups like that distribute bars of soap to hotels with hotline numbers etched on them aimed at victims who want to escape their enslavement.
The abomination of human trafficking flourishes because it’s one of those things we don’t talk about, which is why I’m writing about it here. In a way, I hope I’ve spoiled the Super Bowl for you, or at least disturbed you enough that you will join me in talking about it. If your church hosts a Super Bowl event, ask your pastor to use this popular activity to educate the faithful on what really happens before, during, and after the game. If you live in Phoenix, begin now asking your civic leaders what they will be doing to discourage traffickers at next year’s Super Bowl…then join the fight. On a broader scale, consider supporting Safe Not Sold so that we can find safe, loving foster homes for children forced into prostitution.
The Super Bowl is a spectacular event, and I hope your team wins. But my greater hope is that through the efforts of ordinary Christians like you and me, it will become an event where those who desire to buy and sell human beings will find it increasingly difficult to do business.
Bill Blacquiere is president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, a prominent leader in social services around the globe.