Beyond the Game
By Rep. Kristi Noem
For potentially thousands of young women, the Super Bowl is anything but a game. Instead, it’s another opening for exploitation.
In recent years, there has been a lot of conversation about the possible connection between the Super Bowl and human trafficking. To be clear, there is no hard evidence showing that trafficking spikes surrounding the big game. What we do know is that the laws of supply and demand apply to trafficking too. In other words, traffickers are likely to transport victims to areas where there is increased demand – such as the Super Bowl host city. Nonetheless, the sad reality is that human trafficking happens in the U.S. every single day. While we should use opportunities like the Super Bowl to build awareness, we can’t allow ourselves to put the issue aside once the final whistle is blown.
Here are some numbers to consider. As many as 300,000 children are at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. every single year. Most of the victims are young girls and, on average, they are just 12-14 years old when they are first trafficked. If the victim is a young boy, they are only 11-13 years old, on average. The most heart-wrenching statistic out there, to me, is that these young kids can be forced to have sex as many as 25 to 50 times a day.
Most of the transactions – about 76 percent by some estimates – are conducted online. Some of those online transactions have happened in South Dakota. As an example, South Dakota law enforcement placed undercover online ads in February 2013. The ads targeted folks in the Watertown area and offered underage girls for sex. There were no significant events surrounding the timing of the ad. Over the course of two days, more than 100 individuals responded. This isn’t just a problem happening overseas or in big U.S. cities. It’s happening around the corner from us.
The girls in our area being trafficked can be recruited at local schools, area malls, or online. Sometimes they are transported to other states, but in many – if not most – cases, they are being sold in South Dakota. It has to stop.
In 2015, Congress passed and the President signed a sweeping anti-trafficking package. It included resources for law enforcement officers, protection for victims, more enforceable laws against websites that allow for the sale of kids, and a provision I wrote allowing more resources to support shelters that house survivors. We’re hopeful these provisions will help.
Still, one of the most important things I or anyone can do is build awareness around the fact that human trafficking is happening – and it’s happening in our backyard. We all have a responsibility to keep an eye out for it in our community and speak up if we see anything suspicious.
One of the resources I like to share is the National Human Trafficking Hotline. If you believe you have information about a potential trafficking situation, I encourage you to call 1-888-373-7888. You can also text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Don’t be afraid to use this resource. It may save someone’s life.