A 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.
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.
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.
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.