With the SuperBowl coming up, I’ve seen large amounts of posts on Facebook and Twitter about sex trafficking at the SuperBowl. Some say that it’s the biggest human trafficking event in the entire US; others say that the trafficking situation doesn’t really change for big events like this. Still others take a moderate stance, stating that while an influx of those in the sex industry does occur, it’s not a largely significant amount and there is no evidence to say that it’s the largest human trafficking event in the nation.
The truth is that no one really knows.
There is no evidence to support any of these claims, and the situations of the city change so much that it’s too hard to tell what is really going on, even if the sex industry does increase.
As someone who holds this issue near to my heart, I have to say that I’m somewhat frustrated with how the topic is being handled by the media and on my social media feeds. Here’s why:
1) While I’m sure the hundreds of people reposting these articles all over social media have good intentions, it frustrates me that most people aren’t giving deeper consideration to the issue other than copying and pasting a seemingly-reliable news article onto their news feed. I won’t even get started into the issue of believing everything the Internet says and believing everything news corporations say, but most of the articles I have read spout off a lot of stereotypical statistics and ideas about human trafficking–not to mention that they have primarily only talked about sex trafficking, which is only one of many forms that modern slavery takes. Unfortunately when it comes to illegal crimes like human trafficking, statistics don’t mean a whole lot because they are mere estimates. And if you look closer at what some of the numbers are based on, you see that they contain a lot of contextual situations and have a lot more wiggle room than what is presented.
2) Unrelated to the social media aspect of this whole thing is just the fact that a lot of the measures being taken against human trafficking during the SuperBowl don’t really get at the root of the problem. Prostitutes are being arrested, not pimps and johns. Hotline numbers are being handed out, but what’s going to convince the victims that they will be safe if they try to escape? Billboards are being hung, but how much does that really impact the millions of people who will be walking the streets of the city in the next few days? The reality is that trust of victims often requires relationships, and convincing people to stop fueling the sex industry is not nearly as simple as putting up a billboard. These efforts are certainly not futile, but to truly change the situation, we can’t stop there.
3) Most of all, it frustrates me that when Monday rolls around, you won’t see human trafficking being talked about in all of the mainstream media. While I’m glad the topic of human trafficking is getting a lot of unusual media time, it saddens me that this has been largely confined to the SuperBowl event and is not talked about that often throughout the entire rest of the year–at least on a large scale. Human trafficking exists every single day, in this country and around the world. The SuperBowl isn’t some rare occasion where girls are suddenly exploited and eventually return to their normal lives. No. They return to their respective cities, to their lives of continued exploitation. Unfortunately when news sites jump on the “human trafficking at the SuperBowl” bandwagon, they are to some extent doing exactly what the traffickers do to these victims–making them another number, a statistic, a way to bring in site traffic. They may have good intentions but many of the articles I’ve read didn’t take much time to really understand the complexity, the entirety of the issue. Human trafficking isn’t confined to New York City, and it doesn’t stop after SuperBowl Sunday. If you’re going to care about it on February 2nd, I hope that you care about it on February 3rd too…and every day following that.
I think a really good first step to caring about and doing something about this issue is doing your own research and educating yourself about the issue. I know that seems ineffective and lame. I know that people want to be doing something with immediate, tangible results that make them feel good. But the reality is that a few people with a lot of information about the issue are, in the long run, going to be so much more effective than a lot of people with a few general statistics from some media sites. So many organizations and academic journals and individuals have dedicated immense amounts of time and resources to provide important, relevant, and accurate information to people–so use it! Knowing about human trafficking to a deeper extent will help you know how to truly help with the situation.
Okay, I’m stepping down from my soap box now. But I’ve spent so much of the last four years learning about this issue that I felt like not addressing some of these problems was completely ignoring what I’ve learned. I hope that his new awareness brings more people on board the anti-trafficking movement. I hope that it makes people aware that this does exist inside our borders. And I hope that, instead of this just being a big media show, people begin to truly seek restoration and hope for the millions exploited in modern slavery around the globe.