With Super Bowl XLV today in Arlington, Texas, advocates for children are putting together a game-changing defensive strategy – cracking down on human traffickers and helping the young women and men they exploit. Pimps often travel with their prostitutes to cities hosting large sporting events or conventions. Dallas police predict the Super Bowl could attract between 50,000 and 100,000 prostitutes.
Child welfare advocates and Texas law enforcement officials are working to assist the young victims and arrest the people who buy and sell them.
Young women and men, some under 18, are frequently shuttled from city to city, sold to have sex with sports fans and conventioneers. Uprooted and often completely isolated, the victims are seldom able to find a way out of their violent situations. Some are sent out to prostitution at the age of 11, and are estimated to have a life expectancy of just seven years after hitting the streets.
“From our work helping young trafficking victims rebuild their lives and overcome unspeakable violence, we know the anguish inflicted by the profiteers who send children out to be raped,” said Kevin M. Ryan, president and CEO of Covenant House, the largest privately funded charity in the Americas serving homeless and runaway kids. “Anyone who is enslaved for sexual purposes desperately needs and deserves a safe haven and a chance at a future. These children must be protected, on Super Bowl Sunday and every day.”
Homeless young people are particularly vulnerable to being lured into a life of prostitution by pimps who seek them out, offering new clothes, the promises of money, and, often, the illusion of a romantic relationship.
“Homeless kids are really vulnerable, because they have no support system,” said Janette Scrozzo, who spent many years heading the outreach program at the Covenant House in Newark, N.J. “They just don’t have the love and support of their families, so when they’re out there all alone, all it took was just someone who was nice to them and lead them into a false sense of security. That’s how all of the victims I worked with got lured and manipulated into this horrible world of trafficking.”
One young woman who stayed at Covenant House after escaping her pimp has turned her life around. “I was sold for sex by the hour at truck stops and cheap motels, 10 hours with 10 different men every night. This became my life. Men answered the Craigslist ads and paid to rape me.”
Victims are virtually invisible, and extremely hard to count, working as they do behind locked doors in hotels, and driven away, sometimes in the trunk of a pimp’s car, days after arriving in a city.
Texas convened a task force to train police officers on how to respond to trafficking situations, put together efforts to help victims, strengthen anti-trafficking laws, and hire a prosecutor for human trafficking cases. Also, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott hired a special investigator and auditor to address financial dealings related to prostitution. Websites that advertise sex services will be monitored.
Hotlines are available for victims and people who suspect a person is being trafficked, through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-3737-888. http://old.nhtrc.polarisproject.org/ and through Covenant House: 1-800-999-9999 www.nineline.org www.covenanthouse.org.
Once rescued from their traffickers, victims can find a safe place to stay at Covenant House and get the help they need to rebuild their lives.