Football Season Ends, Sex Trafficking Continues

What happens when the games are over? Nothing different.

Illustrator: Jay Ahn

With the Super Bowl drawn to a close and the Winter Olympics one week in, the issue of sex trafficking has been on the mouths of many. Accompanied by fearful suspicion, the throngs of out-of-town people have created the optimal environment for trafficking to take place, facilitating abduction and subsequent exploitation. Though these sporting events ultimately come to a finish and the crowds eventually disperse, sex trafficking continues to lurk, a hanging, silent threat.

Know your enemy. What really is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking, a blatant violation of human rights, is a modern form of slavery. It falls under the umbrella term human trafficking, involving human exploitation in the form of forced labor or the sale of commercial sex acts. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that close to 80% of human trafficking comes in the form of sex trafficking. The victims are forced, coerced, and manipulated to perform all kinds of sex acts by their traffickers, from as young as the age of 9.

Let’s talk numbers…

The thing about sex trafficking is that it is grounded in secrecy. What makes it more difficult to identify is that the fear of getting caught by the trafficker often prevents the victim from reporting the crime. The traffickers protect themselves from this by manipulating their victims into believing that they themselves are committing the crime. Having said this, many of these cases are lost in the cracks. According to the International Labor Organization, approximately 20.9 million people are victims of human trafficking. 96% of the victims of sex trafficking are female, and 2 million of them are children. Traffickers have made a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry off of these victims, making it the third largest criminal industry.

Minnesota nice?

It may have been easy to dismiss the hidden issue before, but the Twin Cities could not be in denial when the Super Bowl rendered sex trafficking a visible danger. And though this confrontation has not been Minnesota’s first, it has inarguably shed light on the issue. The Prostitution Project: Community-Based Research on Sex Trading in North Minneapolis has found that each month in Minnesota, a minimum of 213 girls are sold for sex an average of five times per day through the Internet and escort services. This number does not include hotel, street or gang activity. In fact, Minnesota is ranked as number 13 in the nation for sex trafficking—a testimony to the prevalence of the crime beyond the scope of the Super Bowl.

Action Plan

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has created the “MN Girls Are Not For Sale” program in order to combat sex trafficking through research, raising awareness, and changing policies. They have funded projects such as the “Don’t Buy It” campaign that has put up advertisements around the state, educating the public on this pressing issue. Their PSA echoes, “Women are not products. People are not products. Men are more than consumers.” This month, they will be releasing a free, online training module to better prepare us to face this problem and start conversations. Another funded project is the “I am Priceless” campaign, created by former victims of trafficking. They are spreading the message “My body is not for sale,” across murals and billboards in the state. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has also been informative about what signs to look out for in potential victims. Their website has listed the follow warning signs:

“Signs of violence: unexplained bruises, black eyes, cuts, or marks. Behaviors including fear, anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, nervousness. Easily startled, agitated, or afraid. Accompanied by older “boyfriend”/ companion. Dressed to look older or inappropriately for the weather. Name and/or symbol tattooed or branded on neck, chest, or arms.”

The Bottom Line?

Whether or not you believe the Super Bowl creates a spike in sex trafficking does not matter. It is not the question at hand. The fact is, sporting event or not, sex trafficking is happening. It is ever present and needs to be talked about after the channels are changed and the flights are booked. If you know somebody who is a victim to this, make sure to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or seek out the appropriate resources.