The Superbowl, Sex Trafficking, and the Harm of Hype

photograph by Meg Hamilton

NCAS-I has begun a series of classes to prepare the participating students for the trip to Cambodia. We are studying trafficking, inviting experts on trauma to educate us, exploring Cambodian culture, and discussing our personal investment in this work. As part of learning how to engage in social justice issues in an international community we are talking a lot about learning from our own biases, misconceptions, and misunderstandings. I thought I would share one such experience of my own with you all.

A few days ago I came across this article from the Washington Times: “Pedophiles and Pimps Score at Large Sporting Events.” You can read the article here:

The article from January 2011 has information about sex trafficking and claims “The annual Super Bowl weekend is considered to be the largest sex trafficking event in the United States, and some even say it is the largest in the world. In dimly lit rooms, pimps and johns will buy and sell child prostitutes as part of the reprehensible crime of sex trafficking.”

I saw the article posted throughout Facebook and all over Twitter. Appalled at the increase of sex trafficking incidents during major events like the Superbowl I posted the article to Facebook as well.

Then I read this article by Rachel Lloyd, founder of GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Service) in NYC: Urban Legends and Hoaxes: How Hyperbole Hurts Trafficking Victims. You can read it here:

Lloyd has done amazing work with commercially sexually exploited youth through her organization (commercially sexually exploited youth is the preferred term for underage girls in the sex industry; under U.S. law this is sex trafficking). In her article she eloquently explains that sex trafficking does not increase with the advent of events like the Superbowl. Rather, creating hype around such rumors minimizes the severity of the issue and its everyday occurence:

“As a movement, we’ve worked hard over the last decade to get people to recognize that commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking is even happening in the U.S., and sometimes the anger and outrage at what we’re seeing — girls beaten, raped, sold and then frequently criminalized and scorned by society — can overtake a balanced response. In a effort to get people to care about this issue, we’ve been less than careful with the statistics and in an effort to get the media to cover this story we’ve often reduced it to the most basic elements. (I’ve been guilty of this too.) We’ve focused on quick fixes and good vs. evil responses that rarely address the true causes or empower the young people that we’re serving. In doing so, we’ve played right into the hands of those who’d like to deny that this is even happening, those who are profiting handsomely from the continued exploitation. The truth is that there are likely more girls and young women who are trafficking victims being sold on than there are being brought to the Super Bowl this year. We don’t need to hype anything up or sensationalize it, the truth is bad enough.” (Lloyd, 2012)

The article made me stop. Made me think. Made me wish I had done some more research. Made me wish I had paid attention to the response in my gutt to the exploitiveness of the photograph accompanying the Washington Times article. Made me wish I had read more carefully and picked up on facts in the WT article I know are not representative of the ways trafficking looks in this country (for example: “Victims are usually snatched from impoverished nations and promised a better life for their families and themselves…” This is no where close to an accurate representation of the demographics of trafficking in the U.S.).

As NCAS-I moves forward with our work in Cambodia I am reminded to slow down and to do the research necessary to address the issue of sex trafficking with integrity and accuracy. Experiences like the one I have outlined here will continue to remind me of how important this is.

– Meg Hamilton, Art Therapy Student


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