Officials in Texas, Louisiana and Indiana strengthened efforts to combat sex trafficking ahead of previous Super Bowls. In Arizona, which will host the 2015 Super Bowl, U.S. Sen. John McCain‘s wife, Cindy, has been speaking out, calling the Super Bowl the “largest human-trafficking venue on the planet.”
It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of trafficking cases in a given year or place because so much of it goes unreported. In 2012, the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that works to combat human trafficking, received 20,652 calls reporting trafficking to its hotline, 330 of which were from New Jersey, said CEO Bradley Myles.
“The overall size of the phenomenon in the United States is much more significant than statistics show,” Myles said.
Polaris plans to add additional staffers to the hotline in February, but the organization has seen only a modest uptick in calls during previous Super Bowls, Myles said.
In December, Kathleen Friess led a two-hour presentation in Hamilton Township for hotel and nightclub employees and tried to dispel notions of what human trafficking looks like. Often, Friess said, it’s a local woman forced into sex work by a man she initially thought had romantic intentions. Other times, it’s a woman from another country whose family is threatened.
Friess told the employees to look for women who may not be in control, who look frightened and may exhibit signs of physical abuse. Victims are often runaways, the impoverished, abuse victims or those living in the country illegally, she said.
“You guys are at that front line, seeing them coming and going,” Friess said. “You’re in a position to prevent human trafficking.”
Ronald Moore, the security manager at the Grand Summit Hotel in Summit, said he plans to replicate the presentation for his staff. A former police officer, Moore said the hotel has been preparing for the possibility of crime during Super Bowl week.
“You’re going to have the potential for everything from stolen goods to assault to check fraud. Everything you can imagine is going to be happening,” he said. “You have to be aware.”
Jane Wells, a filmmaker who recently released “Tricked,” a documentary about human trafficking, said she wants law enforcement to focus on the crime all the time, not just around sporting events.
“This is a 365-day-a-year problem,” Wells said.
(AP Photo: In this Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 photograph, Kathleen Friess gives a presentation on human trafficking in Hamilton Township, N.J., for hotel and nightclub employees and tries to dispel notions of what human trafficking looks like.)