My seven year old daughter woke up this morning and said, “It’s Super Bowl Eve!” Indeed it is. And as a football family we are, of course, looking forward to the biggest game of the year, the pinnacle of football’s yearly NFL season. And we are especially excited for players like Hakeem Nicks, who we know from John’s years coaching at UNC. And we’re pulling for friends coaching in the Big Game like Coach Pat Flaherty, who John worked with at the Chicago Bears.
Yes, it’s Super Bowl Eve! So get your chips and dips, your kegs and deviled eggs ready. Get your flat screens warmed up. The big day is almost here!
The energy of such a cultural spectacle is contagious. And it is great to enjoy the game and all the hype that comes with it. But before we get taken in by the bright lights, this year I am taking some time to remember the small shadows that can be forgotten when the bright lights come to town.
There is growing awareness that the Super Bowl generates revenues not just through the normal sources of sales we think of in the hosting city (ticket sales, restaurant and hotel revenues, parking, etc.). The Super Bowl is also prime time for the most sordid business in our world–sex trafficking of children as young as 10 and 11 years old.
The State of Indiana has stepped out in front of this deeply disturbing fact and passed a fast-track law this past Monday to strengthen penalties for human trafficking. And a woman named Theresa Flores, a victim of sex trafficking when she was 15, and her group Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.) are distributing over 30,000 bars of soap to area hotels that have national trafficking hotlines printed on them. Flores uses soap to reach out to victims and witnesses because of her own personal experience. She remembers going into a hotel bathroom as a teenager and trying to get cleaned up with a bar of soap after being auctioned off to the highest bidder and being sexually abused 20 times in one night.
Child sex trafficking is a very lucrative activity in America these days. Awareness about its prevalence (one study estimates 300,000 kids in America are victims of child sex trafficking) is growing, but that growing awareness is not keeping up with increasing demand and increasing profits.
Shared Hope International, a group started by former Congresswoman Linda Smith, has helped to educate the public and advocate for smarter policies and more effective laws to combat this horrible evil in our midst. Even so, finding a way to pay for sex with a child is not hard in this country apparently. One trafficker said to an undercover Shared Hope International investigator, “If you pay the price you can get what you want, and I can get it for you. Now if you want something really young, that $200, it’s just going to cost you a little bit more than that.”
The sex is cheap and the profits are staggering. Siddharth Kara, a former investment banker who left his lucrative career to become an informed abolitionist of modern day sex slavery sheds light on just how lucrative this business is in today’s world. In his recent interview with Forbes magazine, Kara explains that “Slavery today functions for the same purpose it has throughout history: to maximize profit my minimizing or eliminating the cost of labor.”
Kara says, “Whereas the average slave two centuries ago could generate a 15% to 20% annual return on investment for his or her exploiters, that same ‘ROI’ [Return On Investment] today is several hundred percent per year and over 900% per year for sex trafficking.”
What can we do? Kara asserts in another interview with Columbia magazine that, “Only after understanding how sex trafficking functions, as a profit-driven business, can a more effective abolitionist movement be deployed that will attack the business by dismantling its fundamental premise: the exploitation of a vast supply of potential slaves to meet the demand for ever-greater profits in the worldwide commercial sex industry.”
Football is big business. And it props up a lot of other businesses, too. The bright lights of the Super Bowl spectacle cast these small shadows of children ensnared in a sinister cycle of violence and exploitation. The sex trade wouldn’t be as lucrative if there wasn’t the demand that there is. And the person who wants it could be sitting next to you at the big game or have the hotel room down the hall.
Keep your eyes open, football fans, you are on the front lines tomorrow. The audible to call is yours. Enjoying the game doesn’t mean leaving behind your human decency. Adopt a no harm policy in the fun you have–fun is ok if it does no one harm. And don’t avert your eyes when you see something that doesn’t look right— a young child with an adult who does not appear to be their parent, perhaps inappropriately dressed, and maybe avoiding eye contact. Do not be blinded by the bright lights of the Super Bowl so much so that you miss the small shadows around you.
And when Monday comes, maybe we’ll all have learned something. Maybe our eyes will be better able to see the least of these in our midst in the normal light of everyday.