With Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, Los Angeles officials are preparing for the influx of crowds in Inglewood but they’re also ensuring safety measures are in place to combat a possible human trafficking situation. City officials, alongside advocacy groups, are warning people of a possibility of increased human trafficking during one of the biggest sporting event in the U.S.. In fact, campaigning for awareness has already started in LAX airport where information about how to get help was posted on screens in over 400 bathrooms. For the game itself, about 14 activism agencies, the LA Rams, and special agents will work independently to raise awareness and fight against human trafficking. And while studies have shown that there is no direct link between the Super Bowl and the increase of sex work, officials emphasize the difference between consensual sex work, and human trafficking and why it’s an issue.
“If a willing woman is consensually out there working for herself, that is a very different conversation than a 12-year-old being trafficked and what I’ve witnessed — while working with this community — is not adult persons, it’s minors.” Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez tells HipLatina. She adds “They are being preyed on, they are being threatened and they are being trafficked to do this most likely for a male adult to make him money. And that’s the difference. That’s what I’m concerned about.”
The Super Bowl’s hosting city usually always prepares for an increase in crime during the game, but human trafficking is a top priority because it can directly impact children and non-consenting adults. And while LA’s sex workers have argued against the influx of human trafficking during the Super Bowl, the “party, money, competitive” atmosphere of the game can bring out the worst behaviors in already disturbed people. In fact, in 2021’s Super Bowl hosted in Miami, a man was arrested for trafficking a woman across state lines.
Additionally, California is a vulnerable state because of the border with Mexico. California consistently has the highest human trafficking rates in the U.S., with 1,507 cases reported in 2019, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Human trafficking can consist of victims, including children, being forced into prostitution and domestic servitude; including janitorial work, hotel work, agricultural work, and strip club services. The Super Bowl, because of the crowds, the partying and the money it brings, can be a potential preying ground for predators. She shares that women of color and Black and brown youth are the most vulnerable.
One of the major aspects of this year’s Super Bowl campaign against human trafficking is to feature NFL players including Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Johnny Hekker of the LA Rams. The It’s A Penalty campaign alongside city officials and NFL players are tackling the issue by highlighting the fact that men are a large part of the problem. The point of the campaign is to hold men accountable and to ignite the conversation about the dark side of the Super Bowl and how men can also get involved to prevent it. “We need to take advantage of this audience. Even the NFL recognizes this is a problem and it’s a stain on the sport. The majority of the perpetrators are men so it’s important that men can call themselves out because if they are part of the problem, they need to be part of the solution” Martinez says.
Human traffickers tend to target the more vulnerable populations in the country including, Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, runaway youth, the LGBTQ+ community, and low-income individuals. Martinez explains how this is especially harmful to minority communities: “Black and brown youths are very susceptible to the preying of a predator and a sex trafficker. We, unfortunately, make up the majority of the foster care system. A lot of our kids are in the system and they’re not always being protected. They are easy prey for predators.”
Abusers and sex-traffickers use technology to communicate with victims using apps and websites to look for victims, get to know them and follow their daily routine. It’s because of the fact that they’re preying on the vulnerable that oftentimes, trauma bonding happens with victims. “Trauma bonding is an emotional attachment that forms between victim and abuser” Dr. Alix Sanchez, licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in trauma, tells HipLatina. “Often, when an abuser has been gaslighting and manipulating the victim, victims become more susceptible to believing harmful narratives of themselves. The internal voice becomes ‘I’m bad. I’m worthless. I’m not good enough.’ These hurtful narratives lead to experiences of hopelessness, self blame, anxiety, and depression” .
The Latinx community is especially vulnerable to human trafficking with most of the Latinx victims coming from the agricultural sector. Seventy six percent of victims were immigrants and nearly half of all victims were from Mexico regardless of immigration status. Human trafficking usually consists of a power dynamic and that also includes domestic servitude human trafficking. The abuser almost always has something to use against the victim. “A human trafficker will us anything at their disposal to keep their victim from getting help” Dr. Sanchez adds. “So, if you imagine someone who is an immigrant, who is trying to escape poverty, or if they are fleeing persecution, and they are being threatened with being deported if they get help, they’re going to choose survival. And so, trauma bonding, in many cases, is a result of trying to survive a terrible and unimaginable situation.”
It’s important to be mindful of the early signs of someone who is a victim of human trafficking. And with mental health still being a taboo in our community, we have a big responsibility to not invalidate a victim’s story or trauma but to instead, create a space for them. Dr. Sanchez emphasizes the importance of compassion in our community “It’s so crucial to be genuine, and to care, and respect trauma victims. It is important to recognize and honor their resilience in surviving such a trauma. Trust forms over time and so it’s important they learn, overtime, that they are safe again” She adds “Find people in your community, who you feel safe with, to talk to. But most importantly, those of us in the community who are in the position to be brave, speak out and speak up.”
So how is the city working to raise awareness? The It’s a Penalty campaign activities include hotline tags in 2,500 Ubers, the campaign film shown on American Airlines and Southwest Airlines this month, and — for the first time — the campaign will have a booth at the Super Bowl Experience showing the film. “We need to rescue women and children, most of them women of color and children of color, trafficked against their will.” Martinez says.
To connect with the National Human Trafficking Hotline, call 1-888-373-7888 or Text “be free” to 233733