Blitz the Traffickers: Human Trafficking & the Super Bowl!

Super Bowl leadA January 18, 2014 USA Today article highlights efforts to combat and raise awareness about human trafficking at Super Bowl XLVIII, which will be held in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in two days. ‘Blitz the Traffickers’ consists of a coalition of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations. The coalition has received unprecedented media coverage and as a result, the public is more aware than ever about the scourge sex trafficking within our own borders. Unfortunately, some non-profit, anti-trafficking leaders are criticizing rather than supporting this effort.

Super Bowl XLIV

In 2009, the KlaasKids Foundation and the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking spearheaded the first Super Bowl Tackle the Traffickers. Online analysis using Craigslist and other websites favored by providers and customers was used to target selected geographic locations thought to be hotbeds of human trafficking. More than 45 volunteers distributed anti-trafficking literature and pictures of suspected underage victims to hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater during Super Bowl week. As a result of this effort law enforcement secured enough information to arrest 33-traffickers prior to game day. They were also led to the “Treasure Island” trafficking case where three individuals were arrested for prostituting local women and girls.

Super Bowl HT Bust

Treasure Island Human Trafficking Arrests

 KlaasKids has been a non-profit leader working to highlight sex trafficking at every Super Bowl since 2009. The campaign as well as cooperation between law enforcement and non-profit participants has grown exponentially as has public awareness and education. Now, during our sixth consecutive Super Bowl outreach major media outlets are featuring sex trafficking, Congress is holding briefings, and law enforcement is working hand in hand with the KlaasKids Foundation and other non-profit vendors to rescue victims and punish sex traffickers at the Super Bowl. With enhanced public awareness and education about domestic human trafficking at an all-time high I fail to see the downside of this operation.

 

Unfortunately, not everybody shares my view. Bradley Myles, Executive Director of the Washington, DC based Polaris Project openly criticizes Blitz the Traffickers. “There’s not an enormous amount of data that tells the story that there’s a giant spike in trafficking around the Super Bowl. From our perspective, this is really a 365-day-a-year problem, and we want to make sure people’s focus is on all 365 days.” He goes on to say that by, “Focusing solely on the problem for a weekend won’t help victims whose traffickers may keep them away during the Big Game only to sell them once the public’s attention moves elsewhere.”

 

Polaris Project is committed to combatting human trafficking and to strengthening the anti-trafficking movement through a comprehensive approach. According to IRS form 990, in 2012, Polaris Project received $7,234,451 in total donations, including $1,297,434 in government funding. They budgeted $883,224 for the DC Trafficking Intervention Program and the NJ Trafficking Intervention Program. They are charged with providing direct social services to victims of human trafficking in the Washington, DC and Newark, NJ metropolitan regions. Although MetLife Stadium is only 7-miles from downtown Newark, NJ, Myles prefers to criticize Blitz the Traffickers rather than offering to assist human trafficking victims rescued at the Super Bowl with direct social services.

 

The KlaasKids Foundation does not receive government funding and is not compensated its Super Bowl outreach program. Yet we have been very successful in increasing overall awareness of human trafficking, in pioneering online monitoring and reporting, in creating a campaign to increase public awareness of area missing children, and limiting opportunities for pimps and johns. KlaasKids understands that human trafficking is a 365 day problem in the United States, but believes that the Super Bowl is a perfect stage to highlight the issue. It should be obvious to anyone who actually pays attention that the Super Bowl is symbolic of any huge public event that draws large numbers of men with disposable income and time on their hands.

Super Bowl Outreach

Super Bowl Outreach

By linking arms and working toward common goals we can change the world. Efforts to rescue victims and punish traffickers can only be enhanced by working with other non-profit organizations with similar goals. It’s the difference between boots on the ground and lofty pronouncements from ivory towers. If you are going to talk the talk, you should be prepared to walk the walk: particularly if, like the Polaris Project, your talk is underwritten by taxpayer dollars.

Happy Birthday Polly

8 yr old Polly - HalloweenHappy Birthday baby! Instead of celebrating the beginning of your 33rd year today, you remain a fading memory that informs my humanity as you guide my soul. Much has happened in 2013, some good and some bad, but there is so much left to do in this New Year that looms before us all.

 

2013 was not a good year for kids or crime victims, but it was a great year for criminals. While public support for our cause remains strong, political support has all but disappeared. It is as if the lessons learned from tragedy have been forgotten by policy makers and those that they represent. Unless you symbolize the cause de jour, elected officials ignore our pleas. If we can’t help them to win reelection, they have neither the time nor the inclination to stand with us or commit to our cause.

 

I’m afraid that child/public safety legislation has, for the most part, stalled in Federal and State legislatures, so the voice of the people is now represented in voter driven initiatives, State ballot measures and propositions. Eighty-one percent of California voters supported Proposition 35, which strengthened prison sentences for human traffickers and provided social services for victims of human trafficking, but we couldn’t muster enough support in two years of legislative lobbying to get the issue out of committee.

 

According to the FBI, violent crime rates have increased for the first time since you were murdered 20-years ago, yet lawmakers prefer to debate ideology, gay marriage, marijuana legalization, or any of a host of other fringe topics over public safety. In California Governor Brown continues to dump incarcerated felons into communities. As a result, property crime is at a 30-year high, and sex offenders are cutting off their GPS ankle bracelets and absconding without consequence.

 

I continue to be perplexed by funding within our industry. While the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children continues to rake in millions of tax payer dollars to support their golden calf in Alexandria, VA without explanation or justification, KlaasKids continues to work in the trenches on a shoestring. In 2013, we were actively involved in 106 cases. This number does not adequately reflect the total number of calls received by our Search Center but does detail the specific cases in which we provided services at the request of family or jurisdictional law enforcement agency.

 

KlaasKids 2013 caseload ranged from reports of SAR consultations (54%), SAR missions (25%), Human Trafficking consultations (9%), Human Trafficking rescue and extractions (5%), leads submitted to law enforcement (6%), and child abuse (1%). Of those, 77-cases have been resolved. We also certified our West Coast Search and Rescue (SAR) team, so that we will be able to provide more comprehensive national coverage for less money in 2014. None of this would have occurred without your inspiration.

 

Technology has not produced a silver bullet that will protect children when they venture online and engage social media. However, by combining existing technology solutions with good parenting skills and a do/don’t approach, we can ensure that kids are better protected in 2014 than they were in 2013. Kids should have fun with the Internet. They should experiment, email, chat, surf, research, play games, and create social networking profiles so that they can communicate with their friends. They just need to be careful about doing so. Kids should trust their parents and talk to them about their Internet experience, follow their rules, and allow them to monitor online activities. They should inform their parents if they see violent or pornographic images. These may be illegal images, and are certainly not intended for the eyes of children. Stay on public, monitored, child friendly rooms if they are using instant messaging or entering chat rooms. Predators have the advantage because they are anonymous on the Internet. Remember, not everybody is who they say they are.

 

Don’t share personal information online. Kid’s identity, address, school, phone number, passwords, etc. should never be shared with people that they don’t know in real life. Predators and rogue marketers can use this information against them. Be smart and keep social networking profiles private. By sharing social networking profiles only with friend’s children are ensuring the integrity of their friends and the validity of their profiles. Don’t reply to or start a conversation with people they don’t know. Don’t accept gifts from them or agree to meet with them. It is a terrible idea for anyone to open email attachments from people that you do not know. They may contain viruses or malware. Finally, don’t plagiarize. It is cheating to copy other people’s ideas and pass them off as your own.

 

The prevention front represents a shining star in the child safety constellation. One thing that Democratic and Republican elected officials agree on is the importance of investing in at-risk kids so that they have opportunity later in life. They agree that the best way to prevent crime and violence is through investments in early childhood development. Federal after-school funds served fewer than 10,000 kids in 1996, but today federal funding supports programs that serve over one million children.

 

One last thing before I go. Last year we also created a new fund to help the families of kidnap victims with housing costs and KlaasKids donated $6,000 to Cleveland kidnapping victim Michelle Knight. Her beautiful thank new note said, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.”

 

And so another year has passed. The seasons have come and gone. Tragedies occur with every rising sun and miracles grace our sunsets. People remain hopeful as our politicians dither in their legislative playpens. Music, flowers, the arts, love, family and everyday good deeds remind us that hope reigns eternal. However, I find it difficult to conceive the concept of eternity without you in my life.