John Whitehead's Commentary
Sex Trafficking: There's More to the Super Bowl Than Sports
"The Super Bowl is one of the largest human trafficking events in the United States." -- Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General
The wildly popular Super Bowl, with its revelry of sex, drugs and alcohol, invariably imparts a Bacchanalian aura to whatever city plays host to it, and Super Bowl XLV, which will take place in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday February 6, 2011, will be no exception. With greater numbers of Americans reportedly planning to celebrate the showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Greenbay Packers by throwing a party, attending a party or watching at a bar or restaurant, consumer spending is expected to reach $10.1 billion.
Of course, that doesn't include the money that will be raked in by sex traffickers in the lucrative trade that surrounds the Super Bowl which, according to the Miami Herald, "is expected to generate as much traffic for prostitutes as it does for bartenders and bookies." In fact, the scale of prostitution at the last few Super Bowls was described by government agents as "incredible," according to Joseph Ullmann, an FBI special agent who handles cases involving crimes against children.
The Florida Commission Against Human Trafficking estimated that "tens of thousands of women and minors were trafficked in the Miami area during the last Super Bowl." One such trafficker, Manuel A. Walcott, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for offering a 14-year-old girl as a "Super Bowl Special" during the 2009 game in Tampa. When undercover investigators inquired about the special, they were quoted a price of $300 for two girls--a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old who had been a prostitute for two years.
In anticipation of this year's Big Game, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced his intention to have two dozen state officials help local law enforcement combat sex trafficking. But even with the support of the FBI and the help of volunteer organizations, it's unlikely Abbott will be able to do much.
While most Americans don't hear much about domestic sex trafficking from the media or government officials, it is without a doubt America's dirtiest secret, infecting suburbs, cities and towns across the nation. Indeed, with the majority of its clients in the U.S. being married men, sex trafficking--especially the trafficking of young girls--has become a lucrative business, raking in $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone, and $32 billion worldwide. It is also a highly mobile enterprise, with trafficked women constantly being moved from city to city, state to state, and country to country in order to avoid detection by police and cater to male buyers' demand for sex with different women.
It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged sex workers in the U.S. (the average age of girls who enter into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, with some as young as 9 years old), not including those who entered the "trade" as minors and have since come of age. Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. Many started out as runaways or throwaways, only to be snatched up by pimps or larger sex rings. Others, persuaded to meet up with a stranger after interacting online through one of the many social networking sites, find themselves quickly initiated into their new lives as sex slaves.
Debbie, a straight-A student who belonged to a close-knit Air Force family living in Phoenix, Ariz., is an example of this trading of flesh. Debbie was 15 when she was snatched from her driveway by an acquaintance-friend. Forced into a car, Debbie was bound and taken to an unknown location, held at gunpoint and raped by multiple men. She was then crammed into a small dog kennel and forced to eat dog biscuits. Debbie's captors advertised her services on Craigslist. Those who responded were often married with children, and the money that Debbie "earned" for sex was given to her kidnappers. The gang raping continued. After searching the apartment where Debbie was held captive, police finally found Debbie stuffed in a drawer under a bed. Her harrowing ordeal lasted for 40 days.
While Debbie was fortunate enough to be rescued, others are not so lucky. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children go missing every year--roughly 2,185 children a day. How many of these young people are used to feed the constant demand for new and younger flesh, it's hard to say, but there can be no underestimating the horrors to which they are subjected.
According to Shared Hope International, an under-aged prostitute, working five nights a week, could over the course of five years find herself "raped" by 6,000 men. That quota increases dramatically during sporting events such as the Super Bowl, which is considered a magnet for prostitution. As Shared Hope reports, "Children exploited through prostitution typically are given a quota by their trafficker/pimp of 10-15 buyers per night...though some service providers report girls having been sold to as many as 45 buyers in a night at peak demand times, such as a sporting event or convention."
Peter Landesman paints the full horrors of life for those victims of the sex trade in his exhaustive and enlightening article "The Girls Next Door":
Andrea told me that she and the other children she was held with were frequently beaten to keep them off-balance and obedient. Sometimes they were videotaped while being forced to have sex with adults or one another. Often, she said, she was asked to play roles: the therapist patient or the obedient daughter. Her cell of sex traffickers offered three age ranges of sex partners--toddler to age 4, 5 to 12 and teens--as well as what she called a "damage group." "In the damage group, they can hit you or do anything they want to," she explained. "Though sex always hurts when you are little, so it's always violent, everything was much more painful once you were placed in the damage group."
What Andrea described next shows just how depraved some portions of American society have become. "They'd get you hungry then to train you" to have oral sex. "They put honey on a man. For the littlest kids, you had to learn not to gag. And they would push things in you so you would open up better. We learned responses. Like if they wanted us to be sultry or sexy or scared. Most of them wanted you scared. When I got older, I'd teach the younger kids how to float away so things didn't hurt."
Immigration and customs enforcement agents at the Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., report that when it comes to sex, the appetites of many Americans have now changed. What was once considered abnormal is now the norm. These agents are tracking a clear spike in the demand for harder-core pornography on the Internet. As one agent noted, "We've become desensitized by the soft stuff; now we need a harder and harder hit."
This trend is reflected by the treatment many of the girls receive at the hands of the drug traffickers and the men who purchase them. Landesman interviewed Rosario, a Mexican woman who had been trafficked to New York and held captive for a number of years. She said: "In America, we had 'special jobs.' Oral sex, anal sex, often with many men. Sex is now more adventurous, harder."
Unfortunately, in a corporate age where the value placed on human life takes a backseat to profit and women are looked upon as meat, and the porn industry reportedly makes more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, yahoo, Apple, Netflix and Earthlink combined, the plight of these young people is largely ignored. But how did we get to this sorry state in the first place?
There are a multitude of factors that have contributed to the explosive growth of child prostitution in recent years, not the least of which is the rampant availability of porn and the unabashed peddling of sex by advertisers and the entertainment industry. As Jessica Bennett notes in "The Pornification of a Generation" for Newsweek, "In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn't take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives. Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms." She continues:
All it takes is one look at MySpace photos of teens to see examples--if they aren't imitating porn they've actually seen, they're imitating the porn-inspired images and poses they've absorbed elsewhere. Latex, corsets and stripper heels, once the fashion of porn stars, have made their way into middle and high school. An ad for Axe shower gel, marketed to teen boys, uses the slogan "How Dirty Boys Get Clean," while Burton, the snowboard company, partnered with Playboy earlier this year on a new line of "Love" boards--complete with voluptuous cheeks smack dab in the middle of each. The boards' online description reads: "I enjoy laps through the park; long, hard grinds on my meaty Park Edges followed by a good, hot waxing." One of the most popular kids' videogames, Guitar Hero, features animated rock stars that stand on a stage with a neon stripper gyrating on a pole behind them. Strippers have become cool--unremarkable even.
Celebrities, too, have become amateur porn stars. They show up in sex tapes (Colin Farrell, Kim Kardashian), hire porn producers to shoot their videos (Britney Spears) or produce porn outright (Snoop Dogg). Actual porn stars and call girls, meanwhile, have become celebs. Ron Jeremy regularly takes cameos in movies and on TV, while adult star Jenna Jameson is a best-selling author.
This veritable culture of pornography has also lent an air of glamour to the sex industry. As Tina Frundt, who was forced into prostitution when she was 14 years old, pointed out: "You can turn on the TV now and see pimps glamorized in TV shows, music videos, and movies. Young people use 'pimp' in everyday conversation: 'my ride is pimped out,' 'your clothes are pimping.' They do not understand the reality behind the term." Moreover, the use of such pejorative terms as "whore," "slut" or "bitch" has largely become commonplace today and, especially when used by young people, connotes a certain amount of affection.
Yet for the thousands of young people forced to sell themselves for sex every day, there is nothing titillating or glamorous about their lives. Typically, a young trafficking victim in the U.S. lasts in the system for two to four years. Even if they don't die, the health consequences are devastating, ranging from broken bones and other violent injuries to sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies, mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and drug addiction, not to mention criminal and delinquency charges if they are caught.
So before you lose yourself in Super Bowl mayhem and madness, just remember that for those victims of the sex trade, there can be only one outcome to this year's big game: they will lose and lose badly, while the men who pay for their services will return to their families and jobs and never look back.
Given the moral depravity surrounding the Super Bowl, for any American to lend their support to this event, whether it's from the safety of their living rooms or at a Super Bowl party at a friend's house, bar or worse, at church, makes each viewer complicit in the horrors being perpetrated on these young girls. You can be sure that the Super Bowl will not be playing at my house this year.