It’s the ugly side of the Super Bowl – the reality that America’s most popular sporting event is also likely America’s biggest day for sexual slavery. The day that sells the most tickets and the most coveted ad spaces is also the day that results in the most sales of little girls and women, at prices inflated to match the expense of the event. In a cruel outplay of the economic reality of “supply and demand,” it is not only local pimps who make a big profit – women and girls from all over the country are often brought in to the destination city to ensure that travelers for the big game have enough “side entertainment” available.
As awareness of this evil phenomenon has grown, law enforcement officials and private organizations have been stepping up efforts to bring the activity to a halt, with Sunday’s event seeing perhaps the most intense and organized movement to date. In the six months leading up to the Super Bowl, the FBI partnered with both state and local law enforcement officials, more than 50 agencies in all, to create a coordinated effort not only in New Jersey, but throughout other states where pimps and their victims may be traveling from or through to supply the host city with enough “workers” to meet the demands of the big day.
The operation included training hotel staff and other employees working in venues focused on hospitality or travel assistance to recognize warning signs of human trafficking and respond appropriately. The coordinated effort is the result of the FBI’s “Innocence Lost” initiative, a program established in 2003 in conjunction with the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, for the purpose of combating the trafficking and sale of minors.
It is an effort that made a critical impact for dozens of women and children this weekend, as the FBI announced yesterday that it rescued more than 50 women forced into prostitution, as well as 16 minors being sold into sexual slavery. Six of the minors were recovered in New Jersey, while the others were recovered in surrounding states from pimps known to traffic victims across state lines, some of whom claimed to have traveled specifically to provide sexual services during Super Bowl events. In addition, 45 pimps were arrested in the coordinated operation.
Of the children recovered, some were as young as 13, and none older than 17. Many were runaways who had been lured by pimps seeking desperate children, while some others were children who had been reported missing by their families, and still others were foreign nationals.
It will be a long road for the women and children recovered, however. Brainwashing, brutal beatings, and threats of harm to family members are the normal living environment for victims of human trafficking, making it difficult to truly escape and heal. Many victims return to their captors out of fear or guilt, or as a result of Stockholm Syndrome.
Clemmie Greenlee, a victim of human trafficking who has dedicated her life to reaching other women in her situation, explains, “There’s no such thing as we want to go back to these guys, we do not feel that no one — not even the law — can protect us, and we do not want to die. … You can say you’re going to save us, you can say we don’t have to worry about the pimps no more. We already know what power they have shown us. So either you come back to them, or you find out two days later they either got your grandmother or they just broke your little baby’s arm.” In some ways, getting the women out is the easy part – helping them rebuild shattered lives is a much longer, much more difficult process.
Yet every effort must begin somewhere. Perhaps this weekend, for nearly 70 women and children, the first steps to healing and freedom have begun.
For those who suspect trafficking, contact your local police or the Department of Homeland Security at 1.866.347.2423. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center also staffs a toll-free 24-hour hotline at 888-373-7888.