By Tonya Andris
Inside The Pew
Now that Super Bowl 50 is history, one organization continues its call for more awareness on sex trafficking that occurs during the annual game and other large events.
Nita Belles, founder of In Our Backyard, recently took her fight for victims to San Francisco, taking issue with journalists and supporters of the sex industry who called increased sex trafficking during gatherings of this sort as an urban myth.
“An urban myth? Are they serious?” questions the human trafficking expert. “There is no myth about it.
“Traffickers smell the money present at the Super Bowl celebrations and bring their victims here to exploit them and take the money. We are not talking about voluntary prostitution,” said Belles, author of a book that bears the same title of her organization. “The fact is that adults and children are being forced into sex trafficking. Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing crime in the world—and that includes the United States. It is happening 365 days a year in every ZIP code. Trafficking, and even the recruitment of new victims, absolutely escalates around large events that draw big crowds like this week’s Super Bowl.”
Belles lead a team of professionals who worked non-stop to ensure that those who are being trafficked have a fighting chance at freedom and that the sex buyers and traffickers will be brought to justice.
“There’s a saying that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world,” Belles said. “But it’s the oldest abuse in the world. Here is my request to the media: Don’t be quiet. Don’t fall prey to the lie that human trafficking is not increasing. All the traffickers ask is that we keep quiet and perpetuate the myth that it doesn’t happen here. I ask for the media’s help in making it hard to be a trafficker.”
A 2014 study by the University of Arizona about increased sex trafficking during large events stated that “The Super Bowl, or any large event which provides a significant concentration of people in a relatively confined urban area, becomes a desirable location for a trafficker to bring their victims for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.”
After last year’s Super Bowl in Arizona, the FBI announced that Arizona police departments and law enforcement officers conducted recovery operations for six months leading up to the Super Bowl, where agencies recovered numerous juvenile victims, ranging in age from 13 to 17, as well as adult victims who had been subjected to physical abuse by their traffickers.
Overall through their efforts arrests included 360 customers of commercial sex, 68 traffickers and the recovery of 30 juvenile victims. Belles said that in 2014, 45 arrests were made around the New Jersey Super Bowl, with 16 juveniles recovered. In New Orleans the year before, 85 arrests made and five victims recovered.
“Any time you have a large number of people gathering in one place with a party atmosphere—especially males, it’s prime ground for sex trafficking,” Belles said. “I know of animals who are treated with more respect than those who are trafficked. They are forced into horrendous acts that we don’t even want to imagine. Prostitutes are usually victims,” she says, “and ‘john’ is too nice a word for someone who should be called a ‘sex buyer.’ She adds, “Those who are being trafficked are precious children of God and deserve to live free of modern slavery. That is why I do what I do.”
Belles explains that escape is difficult because victims are closely watched and often traumatically bonded to their captors. Those that are rescued are hoping that they can get the help needed to find a new, safe, happy life. Sex trafficking victims, particularly minors, have a tough road in front of them, even under the best circumstances. They need trauma-based treatment, kindness, understanding, a stable and non-threatening environment, and lots of time.
“Many will need professional counseling and medical or mental health services to recover from the atrocities that have happened to them,” Belles said. “Those recovered in the anti-trafficking efforts in the Bay Area will be offered that help.”
Copyright © 2016 Inside The Pew. All rights reserved.