Days after the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl XLVIII, sex trafficking task force units continue their battle. News articles and op-ed pieces describing the Super Bowl as a magnet for prostitution and human trafficking are prevalent these days. Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) made a speech on the House floor condemning the spike in trafficking that takes place during one of America’s most beloved sporting events, and asked Congress for support of the End Sex Trafficking Act. While it is undeniable that the light Poe and others are shedding on the sex trade is providing new and necessary awareness to the public on the matter, this is not a problem that occurs once a year. There are 364 other days that women and girls are raped, beaten, and sold for profit.
Anti-trafficking experts have different takes on the idea of the Super Bowl being “the largest incidence of sex trafficking during the year,” as seen in Nicholas Kristof’s discussion on modern-day slavery. However, the argument over whether the Super Bowl increases demand for johns is ultimately a distraction. In another of Poe’s speeches on the End Sex Trafficking Act, he avoided any mention of Super Bowl Sunday, but instead discussed who we should be blaming for this crime. While much of society persecutes the trafficked women and girls alongside and instead of their enslavers, Poe makes it clear that the demand, not the supply, is the root of the sex trafficking industry. “Our bill targets the interstate criminals who purchase sexual acts from child victims, and ensures, too, that they are prosecuted as human traffickers,” said Poe. “No longer can these deviants hide. Let the long arm of the law punish the child molesters and pedophiles who steal the innocence of children.”
Congressman Poe declared, “This crime ought not be at a major sporting event, not in our neighborhoods.” Sadly, while it “ought not” be, this crime is most definitely in our neighborhoods. According to Washington State’s King County website, “As many as 500 King County minors are sexually trafficked annually.” In a 2013 press conference, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said, “It only takes 45 minutes for an unaccompanied minor to be approached by a pimp at Westlake Center.”
As I pass by Westlake everyday on my drive home from work, I can’t help but scan faces in the crowd looking for both predator and prey. William Wilberforce is famously quoted as saying, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” We owe it to the women and girls who have had their innocence taken to recognize them as victims. To do that, though, we must first recognize that they exist.