Texas gears up to Superbowl and trafficking risk

There is a “looming potential explosion of human trafficking around the Super Bowl,”  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was reported as saying by Newsweek yesterday.  Certainly there is strong evidence that during the Superbowl when over 100,000 fans descend on the designated city, cases of super-exploitation within the sex industry arise, and within that mix can be found those who have been trafficked, either internally in the USA or across international borders.

In 2009 when the Superbowl was played in Tampa Florida, 24 children were later taken into care by the Department of Children and Families who were designated as victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, and had been brought into the city for ‘use’ during the Superbowl festivities.

CCARHT is currently looking into the hard and softer evidence surrounding concerns about the linkages of trafficking for sexual exploitation and major national and international sporting events. Our report on the indicators of trafficking challenge around FIFAs world cup events, and the Olympic Games is currently being finalised –  One thing that can be said for certain – in an environment where male leisure activity and surplus wealth can be channelled into purchasing sexual services, supply of these services will rise to fulfil the demand. The risk of some of those caught in the matrix of buying and selling, having been trafficked, increases year on year, as trafficking networks develop their muscle to super-exploit women, children and men in a global market. Thankfully states are not completely passive in the face of this exploitation of people’s liberty and dignity. However enforcement agencies, ordinary citizens, third sector agencies, businesses and government at local, regional and national level need to be alert to the movement of people deprived of their fundamental liberty to refuse their labour, trafficked across every border of the globe.

We shall be in touch with the justice department and some of the lead NGOs to analyse what does go down at this year’s Superbowl. Meantime NGOs and Citizen advocacy groups seeking to raise awareness of the human rights and dignity issues which cluster around the buying and selling of sexual services will do well to look at the range of ongoing economic and power inequalities which squeeze people into a place where they are vulnerable to the abuse of those who would pimp and those who would traffic them.

It is in the current context of anxiety around the horrendous crime which trafficking represents, which  includes trafficking for labour in which men are as likely to be exploited as women, trafficking for sexual exploitation, trafficking for social benefits and insurance fraud, and trafficking for organ exploitation, to focus exclusively on a campaign around Trafficking for sexual exploitation, and neglect other longer term, endemic and presient issues of inequality and gendered violence.

In a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania Professors Estes and Weiner suggested that between 244,000 and 325,000 young men and women were at risk in the United States of some form of super-exploitation.

However all statistics need to be managed and cited with caution – as they say:

These estimates…reflect what we believe to [be] the number of children in the United States “at risk” of commercial sexual exploitation, i.e. children who because of their unique circumstances of runaways, thrownaways, victims of physical or sexual abuse, users of psychotropic drugs, members of sexual minority groups, illegally trafficked children, children who cross international borders in search of cheap drugs and sex, and other illicit fare, are at special risk of sexual exploitation. The numbers presented therefore, reflect the actual number of cases of the CSEC in the United States, but, rather, what we estimate to be the number of children “at risk” of commercial sexual exploitation.

As the NGOs and counter trafficking activists  face off with bloggers accusing them of Misandry, and riding on the back of Superbowl induced hyperbole – it is well to remember that over inflating numbers could risk undermining long term resilience in addressing trafficking – which in all its forms  is an expression of a  fundamental erasure of human dignity, respect and worth- by the well worn path of crying wolf and then being unable to display the circling wolfpack.

However given the current known presence of trafficked women and children caught in the sex industry’s darker underbelly throughout the  ‘developed’ world, as women’s education and aspirations enable them to move away from this enduring  rung of accessing finance into other forms of wealth creation,  trafficked women and children in the Superbowl’s wake will undoubtedly be present in the mix. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is right to alert law enforcement to a proper mindfulness to this form of superexploitation – but Dallas and those who come to the sporting festivities could benefit in taking some stock of the wider issues of exploitation operating and cashing in on the multiple opportunites which the gain in visitor dollars affords to the unscrupulous and the desperate.

The longer term arena of economic and social inequalities within the Nation’s own domestic ‘household’ arrangements as the University of Pennsylvania report suggests – shows there is plenty of room for some energetic conversation and interventions around the supply chain, and the demand cycle which drives the strange business of people’s – mainly women’s but also the unnerving use of children for sexual services for cash and highly abusive pornography. There will undoubtedly be some men who find themselves inadvertantly having ‘leased’  a trafficked woman whilst seeking what they consider innocuous sexual entertainment. One of our serious and sustained conversations in the third millenium must be about what the significance of gender equality, and children’s inalienable rights is in relation to the whole culture of renting bodies for sex. It will continue to excite tempers, and fray public servant’s nerves as the pay off between choice, freedom, dignity and exploitation is worked through.

Superbowl aside there is an opportunity here for some soul searching on how societies build solid socially just, psychologically empathatic and economically stable environments at home and abroad so that the numerous exclusions and lack of security which puts so many children, women and young men in the USA , and globally  ‘at risk’  of profound exploitation today, can be addressed in a long term, strategic and effective manner  –  not just a matter of a few high balls and crowd ‘hysteria’  in Dallas next week.

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Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking

The Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking is a network of practitioners, experts, policy makers, enforcement personnel, lawyers many of whom specialise in Human Rights, advocates, writers and academics concerned to understand the matrix of Human Trafficking and to enhance the effectiveness of addressing this insidious, global and ubiquitous form of human rights violation. The current director of the Centre is Dr Carrie Pemberton Ford, who can be contacted on carrie@ccarht.org. Dr Pemberton Ford is available for consultancy and research projects from time to time and welcomes invitations to participate at conferences which address this pressing and most perplexing challenge of our time. The Centre has no political affiliation, and seeks independence in its research processes which it brings to peer review. We are currently recruiting some more experts to contribute to our blog on our renewed site. If you would like to be one of those bloggers ( a contribution a month) please be in touch.