The most-watched sporting event in America every year is the Super Bowl and this year’s match-up is no exception. With millions of viewers scheduled to tune in, all eyes are on the host city for the game, but it's also become an opportunity to educate about the issue of human trafficking.
Like so many large sporting events, the Super Bowl, with its raucous celebrations and crowds, is notoriously susceptible to sex trafficking. But is the reputation of being the largest human trafficking event in the world warranted? One look at news coverage shows the level of attention towards the issue is heightened, with police and hospitality industries receiving training on how to identify victims.
It’s the country’s largest sporting event, but is it truly the largest human trafficking event in the world?
There's no definitive data that actually points to a significant increase in sex trafficking in the host city during the Super Bowl event. The persistent headlines over the years have connected the topics together though, and have led the Super Bowl to become associated with human trafficking awareness campaigns.
While it's a less sensational headline, it is significantly more troubling that sex and labor trafficking are a problem every day, worldwide. There are 50 million people trapped in modern day slavery. It's enough to fill every seat of Phoenix's State Farm Stadium every day for the next two years.
For more than 25 years, International Justice Mission (IJM) has been working with government partners, non-profits, and partners like you to fight this daily injustice. We've protected over 10.4 million people from violence.
What does modern day slavery look like?
From our decades of experience rescuing and protecting those who are enslaved around the world, we see that trafficking and slavery has the same three core components everywhere:
- It starts when a person who is vulnerable, often in poverty, is deceived.
Like 16-year-old Ruby*, who thought she was leaving home for the opportunity of a better life from a kind stranger on Facebook.
- When the lie is revealed and the deception ends, slavery is secured by force and violence.
Ruby distinctly remembers hearing the padlock click behind her and realizing that she was trapped. "It was like a bomb exploding in my head. I was tricked." she recalls.
- Finally, slavery is maintained by hopelessness.
With relentless violence and abuse, the ability to even imagine freedom dwindles as every day becomes a matter of basic survival. IJM has rescued numerous people who were born enslaved and whose families have been trapped for generations.
National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month is every January, which aligns with the spotlight that the Super Bowl shines on the issue. The emphasis on education and awareness is a welcome beacon of light on a problem that thrives in the darkness. That attention must also translate to action.
The reality of human trafficking can be overwhelming, but there is hope.
IJM is committed to rescuing and bringing justice to survivors like Ruby through strong partnership with local governments and justice systems - but this fight needs all of us.
During the Super Bowl we're on the ground partnering with pro athletes to bring awareness to the issue. Check out former NFL linebacker and IJM Director Mark Herzlich in Phoenix talking with players about human trafficking and modern slavery.
Updated Feb 2023.