Game day may be over, but one of the most sinister rumors surrounding the Super Bowl—its link to sex trafficking—continues to plague Miami.
Super Bowl LIV in particular drew many tourists to the Magic City last weekend, some of which flocked to strip clubs or champagne rooms where human trafficking takes place. For context, Florida ranks third in the nation for reported human trafficking cases, with Miami-Dade County as the biggest trafficking hub in the state. Even though the National Football League itself has led efforts to prevent sex trafficking before coming to Miami, it’s a problem that is year-round in the Sunshine State.
The prevalence of sex trafficking—and the myths surrounding it that dominate public knowledge—is something we as Panthers and Miamians should fight against.
Sex trafficking, first off, is not what many of us think it is, according to Sondra Skelaney, an adjunct professor at FIU who teaches Sex Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery.
“It is not going to be the van in the mall parking lot ready to snatch you up,” she said.
Preventing trafficking also isn’t about rescuing victims off the street. While we can tick off indicators of human trafficking, this can lump sex workers or prostitutes into the mix, according to Skelaney. Being present and engaging with a potential victim, whether it’s a waiter at a restaurant or a maid at a hotel, is a better alternative.
“Unless you’re actually engaged and actually paying attention to the people in front of you and really empathizing with them and saying hello to them or something, you might not pick up the signs that are there: the stress, the fear, the trepidation about talking to strangers, things like that,” said Skelaney.
Increased demand for commercial sex that Super Bowl-sized events encourage also results in an increased demand for trafficking. Skelaney said that some young people who are attracted to the quick-buck culture of strip clubs may not know about these risk factors.
It’s not easy for victims of trafficking or abuse to understand their situation either. In these cases, raising awareness and looking out for one another, especially students who may be more at risk of trafficking, is the best form of intervention.
“The more [adverse childhood experiences] you have, the more at risk you are for trafficking,” said Skelaney. “So look at yourself, look at your friends. What have you gone through? What trauma have you experienced? Have you healed from them? Have you gotten help for them, or do they still affect your life? Are you or your friends dating red flag people?”
As a University located in an international hotspot for trafficking, we should continue to educate ourselves and others on the truth behind this abominable act. We’ve already made strides in this aspect; the FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality and Service Management has a training course on recognizing and responding to human trafficking in an industry that’s constantly exposed to it. As for Miami, local organizations als spread awareness prior to game day; the YWCA of Miami hosted the Saving Our Adolescents from Prostitution Project, which distributed 60,000 bars of soap and makeup wipes labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Rather than tweet about Shakira’s choice of fashion during the Super Bowl halftime show, let’s discuss how we can help those who are most vulnerable in our own community.
Featured image by Mack Male on Flickr.