Human trafficking is a term that does not site easily in our respectable, suburban view of life. It conjures up third-world thoughts that seem as distant as they are foreign.
The idea of human trafficking exists largely outside of our conscious, social awareness but for once a year. Around the time of the Super Bowl, we begin to see startling news of human trafficking. People who are fighting in the trenches against human trafficking have advanced nationwide campaigns leading to the Super Bowl to raise awareness.
If you are like me, you find yourself wondering, “Why then? Why the Super Bowl?” The answer is as disturbing as it is eye-opening.
Obviously, the Super Bowl is the most watched TV event of the year. It makes sense to address the issue in conjunction with the Super Bowl for that reason alone. What better way to reach people than to use the platform of the largest TV audience of the year? But the answer isn’t that simple or respectable.
The real answer lies in what lurks in the shadows.
Human trafficking feeds a market of men who have an appetite for illicit sex, and that market is never more reachable and susceptible to what human trafficking has to offer than during the Super Bowl when thousands and thousands of men are staying in hotels and motels, drinking, and partying out-of-town and away from their families.
Sadly, human traffickers find these conditions ripe for trafficking. A February 2, 2018, National Public Radio spot opened with this statement from David Greene, the host, “America’s biggest sporting event may also be America’s biggest sex-trafficking event.” Let that register for a moment. Let it sink in.
Human trafficking is not only a third-world problem. It is a first-world problem. It is an American problem. While human trafficking feeds on vulnerable third-world victims, it feeds a first world appetite, an American-sized appetite. And the victims are not just from the third-world. Human trafficking snares the vulnerable children and adults who struggle on the fringes of our American affluence – right here in the suburbs.
And this is where the news really hits home: human trafficking doesn’t just happen once a year during the Super Bowl festivities. It happens all year. It doesn’t just follow the Super Bowl from city to city; it happens everywhere. Human trafficking isn’t a nebulous evil force; it’s a human enterprise, driven by people taking advantage of other people for profit and sexual appetite.
When the ads about human trafficking threaten to spoil our Super Bowl frenzy, it is easy to dismiss human trafficking as an annual anomaly and forget about it the rest of the year. But the reality is this:
The problem is that the trafficking is largely hidden in the shadows. We don’t see it unless we know what to look for and where to look. Much of the activity happens online. Many of the victims we would tend to view as criminals – prostitutes. They didn’t choose prostitution as a career; they were lured, groomed, coerced, threatened and forced into it. (See Underground Human Trafficking Industry Is Getting More Attention, as reported by Jessie Schlacks on WNIU for Northern Public Radio October 13, 2017).
An estimated 1.5 million people in the United States are victims of human trafficking, mostly children. Let that sink in. And it’s happening in your neighborhood. Every day.
It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. While trafficked victims may come from all over the world, and the trafficking networks are often international, the markets they cater to are in our communities. In fact, Illinois ranks 10th for the number of reported sex trafficking cases nationwide. (See Illinois ranks among top for human trafficking cases as reported by WAND 17, October 31, 2017).
Online pornography feeds the appetite that fuels sex trafficking as well. “One of the harmful effects of pornography is its inseparable link to sex trafficking.” According to The Hill opinion contributor, Timothy Head, in an article posted online March 2, 2018, porn consumption is contributing to a child sex trafficking epidemic in the United States. He says, “It is no coincidence that the rise in the number of child sex trafficking cases in the U.S. runs parallel with the rise of readily available pornography on the internet.”
A study done at University of Massachusetts (Boston) shows that internet searches for “teen porn” more than tripled between 2005-2013, reaching the level of 500,000 daily searches. That is the market sex traffickers are targeting.
And this is where human trafficking makes its way into our sleepy suburbs. The market is here. It is in our own homes. It is all around us. And, the more that appetite grows, the more those appetites drive some adults “to seek out avenues for their deviant sexual fantasies in the real world, putting more and more vulnerable young people at risk,” according to Timothy Head.
Human trafficking is not simply a distant problem in third-world countries, nor does it only occur once a year during the Super Bowl. It is a problem today, and every day. It is a problem that impacts our entire country, and it lurks in our local neighborhoods.
Human trafficking awareness in our communities must be year-round, and it must start today.
Join us as we hear from a panel of experts who will uncover the realities of sex and labor trafficking in our community, and learn about how you can help at the JUSTICE ATLAST event on Thursday, June 21st. The event will feature: Vick Lombardo, FBI; Joe McMahon, Kane County State’s Attorney; Kimberly Fay, ATLAST Attorney; and Cassandra Ma, Psy.D., Founder of Reclaim 13. The event will be held from 6:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at The Copley Theater in Aurora, IL.
Register today at the ATLAST registration page.
If you want to learn more about the issue of human trafficking in our communities and what you can do about it, go to the Administer Justice website.
Get educated, donate, volunteer, or ask for someone to speak at a group or church event in your community.
An Online Epidemic: The Inseparable Link between Porn & Trafficking, Fight the New Drug (Jan. 23, 2018), https://fightthenewdrug.org/the-internet-can-be-a-very-unsexy-place-we/.
David Greene, Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl, National Public Radio (Feb. 2, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/02/02/582613447/sex-trafficking-and-the-super-bowl.
Illinois Ranks among Top for Human Trafficking Cases, WAND 17 (Nov. 21, 2017), http://www.wandtv.com/story/36731463/illinois-ranks-among-top-for-human-trafficking-cases.
Jessie Schlacks, Underground Human Trafficking Industry is Getting More Attention, Northern Public Radio (Oct. 13, 2017), http://northernpublicradio.org/post/underground-human-trafficking-industry-getting-more-attention.
Sebastien Malo, Is the Super Bowl Really the U.S.’s Biggest Sex Trafficking Magnet?, Thomas Reuters Foundation (Feb. 1, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-football-nfl-superbowl-trafficking-an/is-the-super-bowl-really-the-u-s-s-biggest-sex-trafficking-magnet-idUSKBN1FL6A1.
Timothy Head, Porn Consumption is Contributing to Child Sex Trafficking Epidemic, The Hill (Mar. 2, 2018), http://thehill.com/opinion/criminal-justice/376500-porn-consumption-is-contributing-to-child-sex-trafficking-epidemic.
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