By: Don Davis, Forum News Service, INFORUM
ST. PAUL - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. John McCain's wife, Cindy, met with National Football League officials Friday, trying to reduce sex trafficking that usually accompanies Super Bowl games.
“We often think of human trafficking as a problem that occurs half a world away, but the reality is it’s happening in our own backyard, including at big events like the Super Bowl,” said Klobuchar, D-Minn. “That’s why Cindy and I asked the NFL to support strong sex trafficking laws, and I was pleased that they have made their support clear.”
Klobuchar is pushing federal legislation modeled in part after a Minnesota law that requires officials to treat people forced into the sex trade as victims, not criminals.
The women's NFL meeting comes before the Super Bowl, professional football's championship game, to be held Feb. 2 in New Jersey.
Klobuchar's office reports that the Super Bowl "has become a magnet for sex trafficking, with ads for girls surging 300 percent during the days surrounding the event."
The NFL said it is working with local and federal law enforcement to combat forced labor and prostitution around the Super Bowl.
“Year after year, we see a troubling surge of sex trafficking during the Super Bowl,” McCain said. “With the Super Bowl coming to Arizona next year, I’ll be working closely with legislators, law enforcement and advocacy organizations to address this problem head-on and do everything we can to prevent and crack down on sex trafficking."
McCain, whose husband was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, is co-chairwoman of the Arizona Governor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking.
The bill Klobuchar and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sponsor would not affect this Super Bowl, but is designed to give prosecutors muscle to crack down on domestic minor sex trafficking. It also would encourage youths involved in trafficking to get help.
Klobuchar's office reports that in Minnesota recent reports indicate that on any given night dozens of underage girls are sold for sex online. The average age of a child when she first becomes a victim is 13.
The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act would require each state to have a law similar to the Minnesota
"safe harbor" provision to help ensure that youths who are sold are not treated as criminals. It also would allow the victims to be in the Job Corps, which already is available to young mothers, runaways and school dropouts.
Other provisions include those to give victims a chance to recover damages and a stronger requirement to list those convicted of sex trafficking prominently on the National Sex Offender Registry.
A sex trafficking victim is helping officials prepare for the Super Bowl.
Shandra Woworuntu was 25 when she flew to New York from her native Indonesia for what she thought would be an interview for a hotel job, but instead found herself forced at gunpoint into prostitution.
For several months in 2001, the former bank employee was moved around from brothel to brothel in New York and New Jersey, until she finally escaped by jumping out of a bathroom window while an armed guard slept.
Now working with survivors of human trafficking, Woworuntu is helping train more than 3,000 law enforcement and civilian workers ahead of the Super Bowl to help spot people who may have been trafficked.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to the area around East Rutherford, N.J., for the weeklong buildup parties and the game.
Demand for prostitutes surges ahead of the Super Bowl, and officials warn that trafficking gangs are likely to cash in on the influx of football fans, forcing people they have often bought into the country illegally to work in the sex trade.
New Jersey's ports, freeways and major airports make it a "destination state for human trafficking," said Melanie Gorelick of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. "They are preparing to have as many arrests as possible during the Super Bowl and to make it as difficult as possible for traffickers to bring women and labor to the area."
There are no firm statistics on how much the forced sex and labor trade expands during the annual NFL championship, but New Jersey law enforcement officials and advocate groups are raising awareness ahead of the event.
Human trafficking is not limited to the sex trade, and they urge people to be alert to the possibility that workers in local motels, restaurants or even domestic workers could be working against their will.
"Human trafficking is not just the sex trade, it's a labor trade, too," Woworuntu said.
Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, and there are at least 2.5 million victims of forced labor and prostitution around the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Polaris Project, which fights human trafficking in the U.S. and overseas, says it has learned of 12,000 victims across the United States, including people trying to leave a violent pimp or domestic workers held against their will.
"People think that these forms of involuntary servitude and people being coerced against their will ended years ago," said Bradley Myles, executive director of Polaris. "They think that this happens in faraway countries and this doesn't happen in America."
Reuters news service contributed to this story.