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Category: Girls, Sports, Violence against Women

Super Bowl Goal: Stop Girls from Being Bought and Sold

February 1, 2011

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Hidden from view during America's most-watched TV spectacle, thousands of girls are being exploited. The Women's Funding Network and other advocates are focusing a national spotlight on the plague of child sex trafficking.

By Deborah Richardson

This coming Sunday, Arlington, Texas, will host the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers for Super Bowl XLV—and some 150,000 out-of-state visitors and nearly 500,000 fans from other Texas towns are expected to pour into the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area. Tragically, the city lucky enough to host the event will also witness an alarming spike in child sex trafficking over game week. There is a well-documented link between spikes in sex trafficking and major sporting events. 

During the past two Super Bowls, in Miami and Tampa, more than 50 child sex trafficking victims were rescued. The scourge reaches beyond the game’s host city. According to research commissioned by Women's Funding Network, 80 percent more online sex ads featuring young girls appeared on Super Bowl Sunday last year in New York than on a regular Sunday, even though the game was played in Miami. Super Bowl week is sure to heighten already alarming rates of girls being sex trafficked in Texas.

According to  "Adolescent Girls in the Texas Sex Trade," a state-wide study recently released by the Dallas Women’s Foundation, 740 sex trafficked girls under the age of 18 were marketed on the Internet in Texas last November, with the vast majority of ads posted on Backpage, a classifieds site and the new sex ad category leader owned by Village Voice Media Holdings. On this and other sites, the number of ads will undoubtedly climb, reflecting the several thousand trafficked girls estimated to be brought into the DFW area during the week.

This year, advocates and supportive celebrities have a game plan. DFW-based Traffick911, the Rebecca Project and other advocacy groups are leading comprehensive efforts to protect children during Super Bowl week with their I’m Not Buying It campaign.  Endorsed by well-known local stars including Dallas Cowboy Jay Ratliff, the campaign has organized an online petition to get the Super Bowl Host Committee and National Football League to sign-on to the effort to protect girls from being sex trafficked. Around the country, advocates are rallying to use game day as a launching pad to make 2011 a victory year for turning the tide to end the victimization of some 300,000 young people each year.

Step one: call on Backpage to immediately do more to protect girls from being trafficked on their site. According to AIM (Assistance in Marketing) research, Backpage made more than $17 million from online sex ads in 2010. If businesses who make profits off of ads selling girls won’t do more to self-regulate, our elected officials must develop a federal response to hold them more accountable. Law enforcement and prosecutors need more resources and education to go after traffickers and especially the buyers that fuel demand.  It’s time for them to face harsh penalties equal to the harsh reality they inflict on our children. We owe it to the girls, who are victims, not criminals.

The average age of a girl first trafficked is 13 and the average life expectancy rate of a girl once trafficked is seven years. The physical, emotional and mental abuse takes its toll. Few communities have safe shelter and access to comprehensive services that will lead them on a road to recovery.  This all has to change. The dismal statistics around sex trafficking can mask the face of a girl behind the data. At a meeting in Seattle—hosted by the Women’s Funding Alliance and part of a sweep of Town Halls taking place in diverse cities across the country—more than 700 citizens attended to see how they could make a difference. Kelsey’s mom was in the audience.  At 16 years old Kelsey was trapped in the sex slave trade and shuttled between Seattle and Portland.  She was rescued by law enforcement and agreed to testify in the trial against her trafficker.  He was convicted and is serving 15 years in federal prison.  Within a month after Kelsey’s testimony she disappeared. Her family has not seen her since May 2009. A family in deep pain, a girl who’s life is in shambles at best, destroyed at worst.

Not even one child deserves this fate. Join the movement today.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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