In less than a week, Super Bowl LIV comes to Miami. It’s a time for home barbeques, tailgating and watching two teams fight for one thing: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But on a more sinister note, the Super Bowl is also a time when human trafficking rates are very high.
It’s a Penalty, a nonprofit organization, teamed up with an organization called The SOAP Project and other partners to launch a Super Bowl LIV campaign.
“It’s a Penalty campaign: we harness the power of sport to prevent human trafficking,” Sarah Decovalio, CEO and founder of It’s a Penalty, said. “So ahead and during the Super Bowl event, we raise awareness about the issue and we educate the signs to look out for, penalties for offenders and a hotline. We encourage everyone to call, text and save lives.”.
This is It’s a Penalty’s third Super Bowl event and their second event coordinating a sexual assault campaign. Five of the missing girls on the list were actually identified last year by the hotels and motels. It’s a Penalty has a commercial campaign being shown all over international airlines, Miami International Airport, hotels and the media
According to Sarah Decovalio, almost 4,000 hotline reports of commercial sexual acts occurred in a hotel or motel. Eighty-one percent of sex trafficking victims reported that they were forced to perform sexual acts. Miami has the fourth highest rate of hotline calls per capita. There are documented cases of children as young as 13 years old being involved in child sex trafficking. Florida’s top industries are tourism and hospitality, which are both used frequently by traffickers.
With the It’s a Penalty campaign, the mission was not only to educate the community but to also donate supplies to over 480 hotels.
The supplies provided by The SOAP Project consisted of soap, lip balms and makeup wipes.
Each and every one of those items had the hotline sticker attached to them for sex trafficking victims who are in the bathroom. The hotel staff also had a folder with a list of signs to look out for and a list of the young girls who are currently missing.
“These girls are laying in those beds right now in hotel/motels being left for dead,” Theresa Flores said.
Flores is a human trafficking survivor. She was recruited into exploitation when she was 15.
“No matter how skanky or how rich, the hotel has to have a bar of soap in every room. And the victim washes up every single night after each man. So I decided to put the hotline number on a bar of soap and give it for free to hotels and motels. Maybe they will take it and maybe this will work,” Flores said. “I was caught up in human trafficking for two years where I was sold to many different men all across the country in that area right out of my own home.”
Flores didn’t realize she was being sex trafficked until 20 years later when she had children of her own.
Since then it’s been Flores’s mission to share her story and educate people on the ways sex trafficking can take place. That's how The SOAP Project was born.
Katherina Rosenblack, another sex trafficking survivor, escaped from exploitation and started sharing her story in 2008. Rosenblack was first recruited into sex trafficking in a Miami Beach Hotel.
Rosenblack was recruited for the second time at her middle school and a third time by drug dealers, which led her to an addiction to cocaine.
“When I was trafficked, there wasn't even a hotline at the time. If I were to see that bar of soap for the first time, I wouldn’t have married into the cartel,” Rosenblack said.
Rosenblack also wrote a book about her experience. With every book that’s purchased, a donated copy goes to a victim of sex trafficking.
According to Decovalio, there are 20 to 40 million people who are in the sex trafficking industry worldwide. Seventy percent of detected human trafficking victims are females.
Human trafficking generates an estimated $150.2 billion a year, which is larger than the income of the biggest corporations and companies. About 32,000 cases have been reported to the hotline in the U.S., and reports have come from all 50 states.
Some of the risk factors to exploitation include poverty, homelessness, a broken family, longing for connection, addiction and looking for a better life, according to Deovalio.
What leads to most women being recruited is false job advertisements for labor trafficking, and 10% of young girls and women are sold by family members. Another danger is “the lover boy tactic,” which is when men or women act as if they’re in love with the person to recruit them. This is commonly done in the U.S., and victims are also sometimes recruited through abduction by a friend.
Tessa Duffman, who holds a SOAP Project chapter in Michigan, flew down to Florida to assist in the Super Bowl campaign. Duffman is the Coalition Chairman for the Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition in Monroe County, and she’s also a state trooper.
Duffman has worked with many survivors through connections like Flores. As a state trooper, Duffman has encountered victims who were trafficked by their family members or boyfriends.
“Most of our children are being trafficked off of apps now,” Duffman said. “There are a million dating apps and there are a million apps that these kids are being sold on. It’s not just kids either.”
Duffman advises that parents check their child’s phone and make sure they’re not getting themselves into these potentially dangerous positions.
“A lot of people think that these girls were prostitutes, and a lot of these victims will tell you, ‘I was not a prostitute. I was prostituted, there's a difference,’” Duffman said.
Duffman advises that everyone be aware of the signs of a sex trafficked victim like being accompanied by a controlling person, often not allowed to speak for themselves, not carrying their own belongings and lack of freedom of movement.
Victims usually avoid eye contact and interactions with others. They show signs of not eating, not drinking water and not sleeping. They only know sex-related words, and they also have a lot of bruises, scars or other signs of physical abuse.
By Elvanice Previlma