The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is encouraged by the increased awareness of child sex trafficking that occurs before large events such as this weekend’s Super Bowl. However, some news outlets have attributed the statement “10,000 child sex trafficking victims were at the Super Bowl in Miami” to us. That is inaccurate.
No one knows with certainty the exact number of children exploited through sex trafficking in the United States or during events like the Super Bowl. The dynamics of power, manipulation, dominance and control involved in the crime make it very difficult for a child to disclose the abuse, violence or torture they have been forced to endure. Despite these challenges, law enforcement and advocacy groups are doing tremendous work in combating this problem.
“We applaud law enforcement, advocacy groups, community groups and hotels whose dedication advances efforts to combat this during the Super Bowl and every day of the year,” said John Ryan, president and CEO of NCMEC. “Greater collaboration between organizations means victims will not only be recovered, but will get the resources and services they need.”
What we know
While we don’t know exact numbers, anecdotal evidence offers some insight into the scope of the problem. We do know that 1 out of 7 of the runaways reported to us in 2013 were likely sex trafficking victims. This number has tripled since we started tracking this number.
We recently again partnered with the FBI for “Operation Cross Country 7.” During that operation, which spanned 72 hours and 76 cities, 105 child sex trafficking victims, as young as 13, were recovered. Operation Cross Country is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative. Launched in 2003, the initiative has helped recover more than 2,700 child victims.
The issue of child sex trafficking is complex. In the real world, children are being sold on the streets, in hotels and in casinos. In the online world, they are being advertised on a variety of websites. Their “pimps” can be perceived friends or boyfriends, or even family members or foster parents. It is a unique type of child victimization.
An often-overlooked aspect of child sex trafficking is that it is also a problem of missing children. Many child sex trafficking victims are missing from their parents, foster parents or group homes. Approximately 81 percent of the missing children reported to NCMEC are runaways. These children represent the most vulnerable children in our country. Traffickers know this. They actively target runaways and then lure them into the sex trade using psychological manipulation, illegal drugs and violence.
These children are victims and should be treated as such. It’s not an issue of prostitution. It’s not an issue of choice.
We applaud the hotel workers around the Super Bowl who are training their staff to identify possible trafficking incidents. We are grateful to the victim service providers who are already at work near the stadium, offering the victims hope and a way out.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children takes place every day in every state in the U.S. As one police officer told us, the only way not to find it in your community is not to look for it. Events such as the Super Bowl can serve as a catalyst for change – change that begins with awareness.
If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or call us at 1-800-843-5678. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.