It’s that time of year again, and everyone is gearing up for Super Bowl LI. The Patriots will be battling the Falcons on February 5, and all over the country people will be gathered around their televisions with jerseys on and snacks in hand. The Super Bowl is a great time for family and friends to come together, have some good food, and cheer for their favorite team. However, while we are all excited for the big game and the even bigger commercials, there is a side to the celebration that is not as well known.
In recent years, claims have been made that the Super Bowl draws a higher number of human trafficking cases than any other major event. There has been some controversy over whether or not this is true, and a recent study has been cited which disputes those claims, finding higher instances at several other events. Regardless, it is clear that human trafficking does increase around major events, and that includes the Super Bowl.
Houston, this year’s host city, is aware of the issue facing them as people flock to Texas for the biggest sporting event of the year. They are on the lookout for signs of trafficking in the city. One officer reportedly had this to say: “For the johns coming into this city, we’re putting you on notice today. We’re going to have undercover officers, so you think you might be looking for a little boy or little girl, or a young woman. And what you might find is a police officer ready to arrest you” (houstonpublicmedia.org). It is heartening to hear that this issue will be among the top priorities for Houston police as it comes to a head.
Yet city officials recognize that human trafficking in Houston is not just a Super Bowl problem but a 365-day-a-year problem. Texas is estimated to have more than 300,000 labor and sex trafficking victims, with nearly 79,000 being children under the age of eighteen. Within the state, Houston is considered to be a trafficking hub. One recent case involves a 21-year-old woman who was brought to the city against her will from her home in Ohio. Last month, she was abandoned alone in the city when her captor discovered that she suffered from seizures. Her case is just one of many under investigation by Houston police.
While law enforcement is on increased alert during the Super Bowl, Houston has been stepping up its efforts to combat trafficking in the city year-round, creating its own strategic plan to combat human trafficking. The city has several goals, including institutionalizing the city’s response to human trafficking. They plan to do this by closely examining Houston’s city ordinances for massage parlors and similar establishments as well as implementing new ordinances to prevent additional “adult” businesses from popping up. The Houston Health Department will receive new training in human trafficking prevention, which they will in turn use to educate local workers in places such as hospitals and restaurants. The city will also launch an awareness and prevention training program for hotels and offer incentives to participating businesses. Efforts to raise local public awareness include a new media campaign incorporating celebrity PSAs (public service announcements) in cooperation with TV and radio partners.
Like the city of Houston, we need to recognize that human trafficking is a problem that needs to be addressed year-round. Our concern should not be whether the rates of human trafficking increase most around the Super Bowl, but that it is happening at all. The increased awareness that such events bring to the problem of human trafficking can also serve a reminder to educate ourselves and others about this issue. If you would like to learn more about how to fight trafficking and help survivors through Women At Risk, international, please visit our Take Action page.