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Super Bowl and Human Trafficking, Is It More Than a Football Game?

This weekend America celebrates one of its great national sports pageants- the Super Bowl. If you have even the remotest interest in sports you are well aware of Deflategate. Countless articles and air time have been devoted to whether the New England Patriots are playing outside the rules. ESPN.com reports today that the lowest  price of a ticket on the secondary market is $9,205.00, and their remain only about 20 tickets for sale for less than $10,000.00. The high end seats are going as high as $33,000.00! Not only does this reflect the immense popularity of this game, but the affluence of those fortunate enough to attend. Yet the Super Bowl has been rumored to be a popular venue for the sexual exploitation of minors. Before the 2014 game much was written debating whether this is true or not. Statistics are impossible to assemble in the absence of arrests and prosecution; but many believe that large, popular sporting events are a haven for human trafficking. If true it is disturbing.  We are not talking about lowlifes trolling the “red light” district for adult streetwalkers. These are affluent Johns, successful and otherwise respected people who abandon their moral compasses in the name of sports mania.index

The issue here is not whether we should target the Super Bowl; rather it is our failure as a society to do enough to identify and root out human sex trafficking. In a recent column I wrote about the insights the Fellows of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers have begun to gain into the tragedy of human sex trafficking. We are learning that this blight on decency and human dignity is not relegated merely to third world countries. Here in this country the practice abounds.

The Academy represents some of the most successful and brightest legal minds, here and in more than 30 countries throughout the world. Candidates for Fellowship are screened through a rigorous vetting process. A large segment of this group are members of the plaintiff’s trial bar. Trial lawyers are often targeted by proponents of civil justice reform as avaricious, blamed for many of the country’s economic woes, particularly in the arena of medical malpractice.  The list is endless. Lawyers and lawsuits are the enemies of economic stability. Tort reform is the only savior. I could go on  and on. images

The Academy has moved forward in its initiative to be part of the solution to human trafficking. This powerful group of advocates and their spouses have created a spinoff organization devoted to the fight– the Academy Coalition Against Human Trafficking (ACAHT). The group’s website defines the problem in stark terms: “Human trafficking is when an individual makes a profit from the control and exploitation of another person through force, fraud or coercion. Simply put, human trafficking is modern slavery. While it is difficult to assess the true extent of human trafficking due to the covert nature of the activity, the International Labor Organization estimates 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, 55% of whom are women. Human trafficking is the 2nd largest criminal industry worldwide, generating an estimate $150 billion worldwide.” Take a moment and follow the hyper link to ACAHT’s website to learn more about this epidemic.

Who is at risk? The Academy notes: “While victims are diverse in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status, education, gender and citizenship status, most victims share the trait of vulnerability. Populations with a higher susceptibility of being trafficked include victims of domestic violence and runaway and homeless youth.  The average age for entrance into street prostitution is 12-14 years old for a girl and 11-13 for a boy.  Children as young as 5 years old are being controlled by a pimp.”

ACAHT has issued a call to arms to its Fellows and their spouses. Among the initiatives are programs, on a grass roots level, to raise awareness. There are links to the organization, Polaris, dedicated to eradicating human trafficking, to learn to recognize the signs: http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-the-signs.

Fellows are being asked to approach local theaters to host a film from Gathr, Tricked, chronicling the efforts of Denver’s vice squad to uncover traffickers and rescue victims from this $3 billion industry. Others are being asked to host discussion groups and write letters to the editors of local publications.  Seeking changes in public policies is critical: “Ending human trafficking requires changing underlying systems and policies that enable trafficking to take place. These changes need to be made at a national, state and local level.” Members are being urged to connect with anti-trafficking organizations, like Polaris and the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), on local as well as national level. You can find a local survivor-support organization to support in the National Human Trafficking Referral Directory. Supporting the establishment of safe houses is dramatically needed. Polaris reports that there are only 529 dedicated safe houses for victims in the entire country.

Our Connecticut Academy Fellows are working to forge an alliance with the Department of Children and Families and the United States Attorneys Office to determine what we can do to advocate for victims. Among the ideas under consideration is establishing a panel of layers to provide victims’ advocacy services and help administer restitution funds on a pro bono basis. The Academy and its Fellows are staunch proponents to the Rule of Law. No issue demands the fierce application of the Rule than this,

Rich Meehan