As Yale students gathered around televisions and computer screens on Super Bowl Sunday evening to watch the Ravens play the 49ers (or to at least see Beyoncé dominate the half-time show), news sites report about the more gruesome game was being played in New Orleans. In 2011, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott claimed that the Super Bowl is “commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” Ever since, articles are published every year about sex trafficking at the Super Bowl and victim’s powerful stories about their experiences inside the trafficking ring.
Clemmie Greenlee, a victim of sex trafficking, discussed with the New Orleans Times-Picayune how during the Super Bowl, trafficked young girls and women aren’t thinking about the stadium scoreboard; they’re worrying about each other. Greenlee explained that at large events such as the Super Bowl, victims of sex trafficking who don’t reach certain quotas are punished through beatings, rape, and even torture. Reflecting back on her gruesome experiences, Greenlee stated, “The worst torture they put on you is when they make you watch the other girl get tortured because of your mistake.”
Greenlee’s story is only one of countless many. Victims such as Greenlee don’t always come forward, but when they do, their cases serve as powerful tools to raise awareness about sex trafficking. Admittedly, there is some debate over whether the amount of trafficking during the Super Bowl is actually higher than during the other fifty-one weeks of the year. The Florida Commission Against Human Trafficking claims that approximately 10,000 women and children were trafficked at the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, yet a 2011 report by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women shows that law enforcement reported little increase in the amount of such trafficking.
Regardless of disagreement about the actual numbers, it’s hard to argue that trafficking is not at least more visible during the game. In 2011, Backpage.com featured numerous advertisements of women: “Welcome football fans! Brown eyed cutie at your service!” “Super Bowl Specials!” “Super Bowl Fun!” “If your team lets you down, we will PEP you up!” As different organizations publish contrasting statistics, there is really a bigger issue at hand: why is it that conversations about trafficking only pick up during the time of the Super Bowl?
As painful as it might be to realize, sex trafficking doesn’t occur only in foreign countries or only in cities hosting the Super Bowl–it happens on a daily basis in our hometowns and communities. Recognizing trafficking as a problem during major events such as the Super Bowl is an important first step to take, but it’s also time to recognize that trafficking is not an occasional occurrence–it’s a problem that is always worth discussing.