ARLINGTON?In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl in Arlington on Feb. 6, at least two organizations with north Texas ties are working to curb the demand for human trafficking and prostitution associated with such prominent events.
Traffick 911, a year-old organization begun in Fort Worth, and Love146, an international group with local support, are planning informational events at churches and theaters prior to Super Bowl week. They are enlisting churches, home groups and Sunday School classes to volunteer for such things as prayer-walking, a rescue awareness campaign, and flyer distribution in neighborhoods with sexually oriented businesses and other areas prone to prostitution.
Deena Graves, founder of Traffick 911, said, based on data gathered by victims’ advocacy groups and law enforcement at the last two Super Bowls?in Tampa, Fla., in 2009 and in Miami in 2010?prostitutes will be in high demand for the 2011 Super Bowl, which inevitably means the trafficking of minors.
“First of all, you have a large number of male tourists traveling without families. Second, there are large amounts of money at these events,” Graves said. “For example, the Super Bowl host committee estimates there will be 40,000 people coming into our area who do not even have tickets to the Super Bowl. They’re coming just for the party atmosphere. It’s kind of that mindset of ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.'”
Graves said she was shocked to learn several years ago that human trafficking occurred anywhere, much less on American soil.
“I learned that not only do we do this to our children here, but we are one of the leading demand and supply countries,” with estimates of between 100,000 to 300,000 American minors being trafficked for sex each year. Advocacy groups say the typical teenage runaway will spend three days on the street before being either abducted or coerced into prostitution.
Traffick 911 has launched a nationwide “I’m Not Buying It” campaign leading up to the Super Bowl to raise awareness of the problem. The group has representatives serving on two workgroups associated with a task force commissioned by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to combat human trafficking in the state.
At a news conference in Arlington on Nov. 30, Abbott said the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking reported “tens of thousands of women and minors were trafficked in the Miami area during the last Super Bowl.”
Looking ahead to Super Bowl week, “it’s clear we are going to be defining ourselves as a state and as a people by the way in which we respond to human trafficking,” Abbott said.
Another anti-trafficking organization, Love146, has begun a similar campaign called “It’s Not My Fault,” a title alluding to the oft-cited guilt expressed by children of divorce, by sexual assault victims, and by abused children.
The name, Love146, came from a fact-finding trip to southeast Asia where the group’s founder, Rob Morris, witnessed the enslavement of pre-teen girls?held in large glass boxes with televisions playing children’s cartoons?being marketed to traffickers. Each girl was identified only by a number. The defiant look of one of the girls, number 146, haunted Morris, he recounts in a video accessible at love146.org/videos/love146-history.
Among other things, Love146 will be operating a truck during Super Bowl week in areas prone to prostitution bearing an electronic panel with the message “It’s Not My Fault” and a toll-free human trafficking rescue hotline number, said Kim Jones of Colleyville, an anti-human trafficking activist and a minister’s wife.
Love146 will also be purchasing billboard space in Dallas-Fort Worth, she said.
Jones said the issue began to resonate with her after a friend called from a Nashville hotel concerned that a young woman staying at the hotel was being trafficked. The two women prayed, but Jones said that at the time she was unaware of the toll-free hotline of the Polaris Project, 1-888-373-7888, to help those caught in sex slavery.
For the past year, Jones has circulated periodic e-mails updating friends on news concerning the worldwide human trafficking epidemic. It began with a few friends and has grown “like wildfire” as she began including her research, said Jones, whose husband, Barry Jones, is the chairman of the department of spiritual formation at Dallas Theological Seminary.
In collaboration with a friend, Heather Crane, another Dallas-area resident and wife of PGA golfer Ben Crane, the two women enlisted the help of Connecticut-based Love146 in the campaign leading up to the Super Bowl. Crane serves on the Love146 governing board.
In researching human trafficking, Jones said she sensed the Holy Spirit saying to her, “This is kind of a big deal to me. It should be a big deal to you too,” she said.
Jones said young adult Sunday school classes and fellowship groups have been particularly enthusiastic about the project.
The groups are planning several events leading up to the Super Bowl:
?On Jan. 14 at The Palace Theater in Grapevine, Love146 will host a screening of the documentary “The Playground,” distributed by Nest Entertainment, a Christian company, and produced by actor George Clooney?an unusual collaboration but a very moving film, Jones said.
?On Jan. 28, a community prayer service aimed at sex trafficking during Super Bowl week will be held at a location yet to be determined. Jones said time and location of the prayer service would be posted later on the Irving Bible Church website at irvingbible.org.
?On Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl, Traffick 911 will host a tailgate party to raise awareness of the human trafficking problem. The event will include a concert, speakers, a prayerwalk, and a graffiti wall on which attendees can write encouraging messages for young women and children staying in the organization’s safe house.
Both organizations plan to continue their efforts after the Super Bowl leaves town, helping restore the young people they are able to rescue and continuing efforts to diminish demand for the sex trade.
Jones said local law enforcement agencies have been enthusiastic in their support and cooperation, noting especially the efforts of the Dallas and Arlington police departments.
Abbott said the AG’s office “will be putting boots on the ground in the greater Arlington area working to do all we can to try to combat against the scourge of human trafficking.”
Messengers to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting in November passed a resolution decrying the growing problem of sex trafficking, citing Justice Department estimates of 293,000 minors exploited annually in the U.S. The resolution encouraged churches to “support victim rescue and restoration ministries.”
For more information on Traffick 911, e-mail email@example.com. To be added to a monthly Traffick 911 newsletter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information on the Love146 Super Bowl effort, e-mail Kim Jones at email@example.com. The organization’s website is Love146.org.