NORWALK, Conn. The number of human-trafficking cases increases significantly in cities that host major sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, according to children's rights advocates and law enforcement officials. In the weeks leading up to the 2010 World Cup, 40,000 sex workers were taken to South Africa , and the attorney general of Texas anticipated 10,000 cases of human trafficking leading up to the Super Bowl last year in Dallas, according to published reports .
We can expect the same at this year's Super Bowl in Indianapolis. State Sen. Randy Head of Logansport, Ind., is one of several lawmakers working to strengthen the state's human-trafficking legislation before the game Feb. 5. "We hope to send a message loud and clear to tourists who come to Indiana for our Super Bowl don't try it (trafficking)." Nevertheless, many will, thereby contributing to traffickers' profits. Human trafficking is the most lucrative business in the world after the arms industry, according to the U.S. State Department.
The average American too often associates trafficking with countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. Many do not realize that an estimated 100,000 children are forced into prostitution every year in the United States . In fact, last year, for the first time, the U.S. State Department, which publishes an annual report about human trafficking, ranked U.S. efforts to combat the practice.
Most people think we're raising awareness of something that happens in Asia when they see the activities in Fairfield County. People are shocked when our members tell them that within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one out of every three runaway or throwaway children in the United States is lured into prostitution; that the average age for entry into prostitution in America is 13; and that the FBI has rescued 1,200 child victims of human trafficking in raids in U.S. cities since 2003.
Sadly, there are too few shelters in the United States to care for the unique physical and emotional needs of these children, many of whom were first abused by a parent or caregiver and later tortured by pimps. There are 100 beds nationwide for these children, according to anti-trafficking advocates.
Connecticut is not immune to human trafficking. According to the Department of Children and Families, it has provided services to 63 child victims of trafficking since July 2009.
Fortunately, Connecticut is one of the more enlightened states when it comes to caring for sexually exploited minors. For example, the state's Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which was signed into law in 2010, is based on the view that children arrested for prostitution should be treated as victims of trafficking rather than juvenile delinquents deserving of jail time.
Last year, the Center for Youth Leadership partnered with Love 146, an international anti-trafficking organization based in New Haven, to pilot a new prevention education curriculum at Brien McMahon High School. Several domestic violence prevention agencies and other groups provide services to victims. And the Center for Youth Leadership's public awareness efforts are ongoing. Our next activity is a vigil on Washington Street in South Norwalk on Feb. 4. More than 150 of our members will stand in silence wearing signs that read, "I am for sale."
So, by all means, enjoy the Super Bowl. But as you do, take a moment to think about the children who have been trafficked in Indianapolis in the days leading up to the game, the children who are slaves in what many of us call "the land of the free."
The national human trafficking hotline number is 1-888-373-7888. Carly Cordovano and Nina Raffio are members of the Center for Youth Leadership, which is based at Brien McMahon High School.
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