29 January 2014, 19:54

Super Bowl may attract criminal world of human trafficking - activist

Super Bowl may attract criminal world of human trafficking - activist
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While the Super Bowl just a few days away from kicking off here in the greater New York metropolitan area, much is being done to prepare for the festivities that will surround the big game. With scores of fans expected to attend the event, Melanie Roth Gorelick from the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking is concerned that this Super Bowl may attract the criminal world of sex trafficking like never before.

Many seem to be ecstatic about the upcoming Super Bowl and the potential business that it’ll bring throughout the area. You, however, are concerned about the illegal business that it’ll bring to the area. Talk a little bit more about that.

The Super Bowl, as you said before, when you introduced this, attracts tens of thousands of fans to this area and millions of television viewers will be watching it. It is one of the most watched broadcasts each year. But it also attracts the sectored violence, organized criminal activity that operate sometimes in playing site without us really being aware of it, because it is invisible.

Before we delve into what you and your organization are doing to help prevent this, can you share with our listeners what exactly we are talking about here? Because I guess, not to sound arrogant, but human trafficking is something I expect as a problem in various third world countries, perhaps, not here in the 21st century US. How does someone become a victim of sex trafficking here in the US per se?

In this field we’ve heard from many-many survivors – they were coerced and manipulated, how their lives were threatened, how their family’s lives were threatened. And it is a very-very horrible experience to be a trafficking victim. The other thing that you’ve mentioned is that we are not a third world country. One of the reasons that our coalition started here in New Jersey was when we learned that New Jersey was a destination state. Many of us had this stereotype of human trafficking meaning that people were brought from other countries illegally here to work as slaves. But we learned that actually this happens to people right here in New Jersey and it happens to people in America. And it doesn’t mean that you are being brought across a state or a nation border, but it means that you are in this industry do forced border coercion and that very many American boys and girls are.

Just to follow up here, I think it is important, because many people really don’t know about this. Say, in a major metropolis, like the NYC – one the safest cities in the US (it didn’t always used to be that way, but it certainly is now), say someone is forced into human trafficking – wouldn’t that person be able to just run away, call the police, seek shelter? Obviously, it is not that easy or why is that?

I can tell you two stories of survivors that speak out with us and there are more and more survivor stories that people can learn about. There are survivor stories on Equality Now. There is a new movie out called Tricked that documents one survivor. There is a recent book out on Theresa Flores’s life. She is the person who runs S.O.A.P. There are a number of stories out here that give one an understanding of the manipulation and how your life is threatened by people who take complete control of your life.

But two stories of people who are actually working with us on the coalition. One was a young woman, a high-school student from Short Hills, New Jersey. And she always wanted to go to college in Boston. And she went to Boston to college and she made friends with some guys at the school. They invited her to a party and gave her the address. She agreed to go to the party and when she got there, there was no party, but there was a very good-looking man there who said – oh, the party is tomorrow night, but do you want to go for a dinner.

And for the next several weeks he wined and dined her. Almost too good to be true. Bought her beautiful things, got very attached to her and then he started to beat her and ask her to do things. He took away her credit card and all her information, he didn’t leave her alone. He told her that he would kill her and her family if she didn’t do what he said. And then he whisked her out of town and for two years she lived as a sex trafficking victim. She was never alone, she was not given much food to eat, she usually had a choice between drugs and sleep.

When he was arrested she was given back but nobody asked her if she was okay or she needed help. When she went to the ER room nobody asked her if she was okay or needed help. And she was told that her family didn’t care about her anymore and that this person was her lifeline. So, there is a lot of violence, mental manipulation, fear that goes into someone’s experience. She says that she worked at escort during the day. People had no idea that she was a traffic victim. But then she had to go to the truck at night. That’s her story. And the reason that she is free now to speak about it is because the person actually died of a drug overdose.

The other story that’s a local story for us is – a young girl whose mother works full time as a nurse to help professional educated women in East Orange. The daughter was an honours student. She was 12 years old and wanted to hang out with her friends in her community. And one day she didn’t come home. It took her mother 7 months to find her. And basically her story is that she was drugged, taken out of New Jersey to New York to a place where she didn’t know, where she didn’t have any money and she was forced into prostitution. She was never alone, she never had a dime, she was told that her mother would never ever want her to some home and she lived in fear and this life for all these months.

However, one time she was able to get into a bathroom with a throwaway phone for somehow and she called her mom. Her mother didn’t answer but received the message. And then her mother was able, after months of working with the phone company, try to trace the calls back and to speak with everyone to say – do you know who my daughter is, I want to speak with my daughter, I don’t want to get you in trouble, I don’t want to get you arrested. And finally someone said to her – your daughter doesn’t want anything more to do with you. And she said – if my daughter says that into my face, I will leave you all alone. They set up a meet and her daughter was rescued. She was told by law enforcement that it is very rare that somebody who’s been trafficked for that long period of time is actually alive when they are found.

What are you in your organization doing particularly around this time during the Super Bowl to help prevent or at least help rescue anyone who is a victim of human trafficking?

We have trained volunteers who went out to more than 300 hotels this fall to encourage project managers to, first of all, learn about human trafficking, set protocol in place in their establishments, work with law enforcement, so that they have a relationship should they see something suspicious, so that they train their staff. Oftentimes it could be the cleaning person in there, in an establishment that notice something that is not regular, something is off in a room or somebody’s life is in danger. And she or he could know who to speak to in order that that information is going to move up the ladder and that action will be taken.

In addition, this past weekend we just did what we call the soap mobilization where we worked with a group out of Ohio called Save Our Adolescents From Prostitution. And we had 450 volunteers go out to hotels with soaps wrapped with the national hotline number on it, to speak with the hotels about placing these soaps in rooms, so that should somebody come into their hotel during the Super Bowl weekend whose life might be in danger, that they would be able to have the number of the hotline, so that they could call that hotline when they felt they were comfortable to ask for help.

To my knowledge this is always a concern during the Super Bowl, but this isn’t just an ordinary Super Bowl. This is the Super Bowl in one of the largest cities in the world. Is the potential for an influx of human trafficking greater for this Super Bowl than perhaps any other Super Bowl in the past?

We think that it is. And I believe that there is already some indication over the Internet, where a lot of women are sold, of an opportunity to purchase women being in felicity right now.

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