The Pope, The NFL and the FBI: Stop Human Trafficking Now

The Super Bowl will draw attention to human trafficking for one day. But reducing human trafficking needs to be an ongoing endeavor by businesses, organizations and the public.

The Pope, The NFL and the FBI: Stop Human Trafficking Now
Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry that profits from 25 million victims worldwide. (Global Panorama / Flickr)

Though National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month has ended, Pope Francis, the FBI and the NFL continue to draw attention to this insidious societal problem. But every citizen, business and organization can do more to alleviate this global crisis throughout the year. 

Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry that profits from 25 million victims worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization. More than 100,000 children are sold for sex in the U.S. each year. Eighty-three percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, according to the Polaris 2019 Report.

As a licensed counselor, researcher on domestic abuse and participant in domestic violence committees, including Illinois Religious Women Against Human Trafficking, I see the critical importance of awareness and prevention.

Pope Francis recently wrote in the preface of an autobiography of a trafficking victim:

“Since there are countless young women, victims of trafficking, who end up on the streets of our cities, how much does this reprehensible reality derive from the fact that many men, here, require these ‘services’ and show themselves willing to buy another person, annihilating her in her inalienable dignity?”

Supporting the pope’s vision through advocacy are U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, among many others. They support human trafficking survivors through direct services such as providing shelter, counseling, spiritual support, job placement and educational scholarships. 

The upcoming Super Bowl in Tampa will highlight the efforts of the NFL to grapple with human trafficking. Prominent athletes support the It’s A Penalty campaign that has played a role in eight major sporting events. Together with its partners, the organization has facilitated the rescue of almost 17,000 victims of trafficking and exploitation and prevented thousands more from becoming victims. 

Also in Tampa, Airline Ambassadors International are providing increased airport alerts. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody unveiled digital signage as part of the Tampa International Airport campaign.

There is ongoing training of hotel workers to report human trafficking. Uber is offering training of Uber drivers to spot incidents of human trafficking and report them.  

Tampa’s large population of runaways is also a growing contributor to the problem. The city ranks 12th of all American cities for the number of calls per capita to the National Human Trafficking Hotline from Polaris.

To be sure, there are Federal Anti-Trafficking Laws, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, the first comprehensive federal law to address trafficking in persons. The law provides a three-pronged approach that includes prevention, protection, and prosecution. The TVPA was reauthorized as recently as 2017.

And there are victim resources, including developing a plan of escape, shelter, medical and dental treatment, education and counseling. There is also the possibility of a civil suit against the exploiter.  But enforcement is difficult because victims are reluctant to testify.


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The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office, where Tampa is located, convicts one person of human trafficking a year. Court records show few arrests on charges of human trafficking and less than five convictions in Hillsborough County in as many years. Darien Pease, Jr., in 2019, was sentenced to 30 years for trafficking a 15-year-old runaway—a recent successfully prosecuted case. In that case, because it involved a minor, they could prosecute without the victim’s testimony.

A recent press release from the FBI office in California touted that agents recovered 33 children during “Operation Lost Angels.” Eight were sexually exploited at the time of their recovery. One suspected human trafficker faces state charges due to the operation.

The Department of Justice reports it initiated 220 federal human trafficking prosecutions in 2019—a decrease from 230 in 2018. They charged 343 defendants—a decrease from 386 in 2018. 

Of these 2019 prosecutions, 208 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 12 involved labor trafficking predominantly, compared to 213 and 17 in 2018. These statistics should be viewed considering the estimate that there are 100,000 trafficked children in the United States. 

Take Action: Help Prevent and Stop Human Trafficking

The Super Bowl will draw attention to human trafficking for one day—and days before and after in press coverage. But reducing human trafficking needs to be an ongoing endeavor by businesses, organizations and the public.

Business Owners

Business owners can provide jobs, internships, skills training, and other opportunities to trafficking survivors. They can also take steps to investigate and prevent trafficking in their supply chains by consulting the Responsible Sourcing Tool

Individual Actions

What individuals can do is know the signs and report suspected trafficking to authorities, including National Human Trafficking HotlineNational Center for Missing or Exploited Children; Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tip Line;  Federal Bureau of Investigation Tips and FBI Local Field Office Contact Information.

Individuals can also fundraise through a virtual auction, 5K walk/run, or other events.  

Indidivuals can volunteer as an advocate against human trafficking using this directory to identify opportunities in many communities. Various agencies advocate in state and local governmental bodies.

Pursuing a career as a social worker, psychologist or counselor in the field of human trafficking prevention is also possible. Human services professionals can consider adding this focus to their practice. Research directed towards mechanisms to alleviate human trafficking and assisting victims is another possibility.

Yes, the Super Bowl will succeed in making more people aware of global human trafficking, but this is an urgent global crisis that claims lives every day. So every day of every week of every month in every year, more individuals and organizations can do the work necessary to end this injustice.

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About

Helen LaVan, Ph.D., LPC, is a Professor of Management at DePaul University and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project. She is a licensed counselor, researcher on domestic abuse and participant in Illinois Religious Women Against Human Trafficking.