In the second meeting of the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force held November 17, 2010, state Attorney General Greg Abbott said, “Recent Super Bowls provide a sobering picture of what can happen …The Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (FCAHT) reported that tens of thousands of women and minors were trafficked in the Miami area during the last Super Bowl.”
In response to the “scourge” of human sex trafficking at recent Super Bowls, Texas law enforcement agencies – in conjunction with federal organizations – are “preparing for the worst,” according to Texas AG spokesman Jerry Strickland. Strickland said that twelve undercover agents and many others around the periphery are being mobilized to handle the expected influx of pimps, johns, and sex slaves.
While Strickland couldn’t comment on the “tens of thousands” figure that Abbott cited in his speech, he did say that “anecdotally thousands came into the area for illegal activity.”
Organizers at FCAHT were unsure why their organization was cited as a source for the attorney general’s large figure even though both sides had engaged in a “lengthy conversation” regarding the Coalition’s work during the Miami and Tampa games the past two years. Founder and CEO Anna Rodriguez, said that she “had no idea” why the Texas Attorney General cited her organization for the “tens of thousands” number, and that “it doesn’t matter who said what” in regards to the estimated number of illegally trafficked sex workers.
Besides the twelve undercover agents and other periphery agents, state law enforcement agents have been conducting training for local law enforcement agencies in methods to deal with the sex trafficking threat. The FBI also plans to increase the resources it dedicates to the efforts to fight sex trafficking at the game by sending 10 additional agents, analysts, and supervisors. Five major airline companies are offering training to their flight crews and staff to help them recognize the signs of human sex trafficking and how to deal with it.
Another FCAHT organizer, Giselle Rodriguez, said that Abbott’s citation was “possibly a misquote” and that she wouldn’t say that it’s true that tens of thousands of sex trafficking victims descended in the southern Florida area for last year’s big game.
Rodriguez said, “There were sex workers present. In the whole sex industry [including non-trafficked workers], thousands were there. For example, at the Super Bowl in Tampa [in 2009], a strip club that usually had 20 dancers on a typical night had 100 during the [Super Bowl] weekend. On Craigslist, where there were usually 50-80 ads for escorts on a typical weekend, there were 400 during the Super Bowl.”
Rodriguez stressed that victims of sex trafficking were rescued by her organization and others during the previous two Super Bowls. Her statement corroborates those made by AG Abbott in his message to the Texas Task Force in which he said that 12 trafficking victims were picked up at both the Tampa and Miami Super Bowls in 2009 and 2010.
But Rodriguez said that it was hard to say how many sex workers were trafficked for those Super Bowls. This measurement difficulty is shared by the U.S. State Department:
“The data and methodologies for estimating the prevalence of human trafficking globally and nationally are not well developed, and therefore estimates have varied widely and changed significantly over time.”
As an example of the difficulty in measuring sex trafficking victims, the State Department initially estimated that 50,000 victims were trafficked into the U.S. for sex each year, but they have since revised the estimate downward to between 14,500 and 17,500.
Domestic estimates are also hard to come by. Richard Estes and Neil Weiner, professors from the University of Pennsylvania, have provided the most widely cited statistics in the field of study. Their research has been included in State Department reports which have also filtered down to various activist and community outreach organizations. Estes and Weiner developed figures for youth “at risk” for sex trafficking. They determined that about 300,000 American youth are at risk for sex trafficking each year based on several “feeder” factors such as poverty, family problems, drug use, and homelessness.
To arrive at their estimate for “at risk” youth, Estes and Weiner used statistical reference guides to add up the number of youth who fit into the various “feeder” categories. This includes categories as wide-ranging as the number of homeless youth – which contributed 90,000 to the “at risk” total – and the number of 13-17 year-olds who live within driving distance of Mexico or Canada; this group contributed 14,000 to the “at risk” tally.
Despite this methodology problem, Attorney General Abbott’s estimate seems to have gained traction throughout the media. The Dallas Morning News, The Fort Worth Star Telegram, Fox News, and many blogs and activist websites have cited that figure as a likely scenario for both last year’s game in Miami and the one coming up in Dallas.
One particular Texas-based anti-trafficking group called Traffick911 has organized a campaign to spread information about the prevalence of domestic sex trafficking. They have customized information placards and their website to highlight the magnitude of the sex trafficking problem in the nation’s second-largest state.
Traffick911 has included two NFL players and two musicians in self-produced public service announcement (PSA) videos to help draw national attention to their effort. One video features Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jay Ratliff. Ratliff, speaking directly to men who are the eventual customers of sex trafficking – whether to their knowledge or not – says:
“I’m mad. Men, I’m talking to you…Real men don’t buy children. Real men don’t buy sex.”
In an effort to personalize their message, another PSA features a clean cut young man who begins, “I am the face of human sex trafficking,” and characterizes his customers as regular guys – “fathers, husbands, teachers, and lawyers.” In another installment, the video opens with the words “Made in America” and then shows a young middle-class girl with braces blowing out the candles of her 13th birthday cake. The next scene opens with the words “SOLD in America” and shows the same girl, years later, laying in a bed on her side – seemingly having finished a trick.
A spokesperson for Traffick911 said that the organization was present at the Attorney General’s November meeting, but that the “I’m Not Buying It” campaign had already been formulated and put into action.
Traffick911’s campaign has been picked up by national activist website Change.org which linked to news stories citing Attorney General Abbott’s November speech. Change.org, which in one article suggested that the men who pay for trafficked individuals are paying “to rape them”, has gathered over 68,000 e-signatures for their petition aimed at forcing the North Texas Super Bowl Hosting Committee and the NFL to use its clout to spread the message of sex trafficking in Texas and around the country. In a widely circulated e-mail, Change.org wrote:
“Local anti-trafficking groups have reportedly offered to help the committee use its influence to educate fans and the public about the dangers of child trafficking which could help to prevent thousands of rapes and abuses at America’s biggest sporting event.
But the Host Committee has refused to take meaningful action. And thousands of children will pay the price.”
In an email response, Tony Fay, director of communications for the Host Committee, said that his organization has communicated to activists that they have “absolutely no power or sway over anything that happens in stadium or on TV around the game.” The NFL even controls the materials that the committee can pass out around town, Fay said. He also maintains that there seems to be a severe breakdown in communication about what exactly the Host Committee’s powers are.
The petitioners at Change.org, Amanda Kloer and Melissa Snow, did not respond to information about the hosting committees limited powers. After writing an article about the Super Bowl petition, pro-feminist website Jezebel.com corrected their piece to account for Fay’s statement (brought to the attention of the Jezebel author by this writer).
The Super Bowl takes place this Sunday in Arlington, Texas.