Sports and Human Trafficking

The first time I heard sex trafficking discussed from a public stage was in 2013 at the Passion Conference when heard Christine Caine speak about the efforts of A21. I watched online while thousands of college students learned that there are more human slaves currently in the world than at any other time in history. CNN picked up the story, and the A21 campaign became common lingo in my circles.  I was aware of human trafficking before the Passion Conferences, but hearing Christine Caine speak about statistics and personal stories were jarring.

A year or so after learning about A21 the health department I worked for hosted a local awareness meeting about sex trafficking in our area.  Since our town was close to St. Louis, our local law enforcement and state’s attorneys had received training and wanted to make us aware of signs to look at as we interacted with the public regarding traffickers.  As conversations continued, our trainers pointed out that one of the most profitable times for pimps is during major athletic events.

The links between human trafficking and major sporting events are complex. Human trafficking is largely a hidden crime, but each year we become more aware of patterns. As new laws are passed and task forces are put together we gather increasingly accurate numbers regarding the horrors of this terrible crime.

Dr. Lapchick from the Institute for Sport and Social Justice said in 2019, “In August, domestically, there were 152 individuals arrested, suspected, or charged with human trafficking activities, 34 victims under the age of 18 rescued as well as 28 adult victims rescued. There were five new laws passed and 25 community initiatives. Internationally, there were 86 individuals arrested, suspected, or charged with human trafficking activity, 143 adult victims were rescued, and 88 children under the age of 18 were also rescued. There was one new law passed and five community initiatives.”

sports and human trafficking 
lessons from the sidelines

Many news reports finally acknowledge that there is an increase in the demand for commercial sex services surrounding large sporting events such as the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA and NHL playoffs, professional golf tournaments, and horse races, as well as college sports and NCAA playoff events. 

ESPN reports, “Just a few months after the 2019 Super Bowl, officials arrested 58 people in a sex trafficking sting operation during the NCAA Men’s Tournament Final Four in Minneapolis. This included 47 people being charged for felony solicitation of a minor, and 11 people for sex trafficking or promotion of prostitution. As a result of the sting, 28 people including one minor were rescued. The five-day operation involved undercover agents and investigators who chatted with potential sex buyers over social media — another reminder of just how far technology has taken us.”

Action Starts With Awareness

Human trafficking has become even more complex in recent years with the rise of the disinformation and conspiracy theories.That’s why it’s even more important to partner with reputable organizations. “The #ENDITMOVEMENT is a Coalition Partners’ efforts to bring AWARENESS, PREVENTION, RESCUE, RESTORATION.”

As a football coach’s wife, I cannot ignore the connections that hoover around athletics and human trafficking. I’ve traveled with our teams for years. I’ve entered and left the stadium with the team and noticed that even at the small college level there are women who hang out in the lobby of our hotel or stop at a table in a restaurant to ask where the team is staying and when players’ have curfew. 

I always ignored this behavior until going through the training with my job. While there are very few ways that we can safely help women in these situations, awareness is a vital piece of the puzzle.  Perhaps it is all the time I’ve spent with college women, or the A21 stories I’ve heard, or simply the fact that God has opened my eyes and heart to accept the difficult truth that this is a real situation we cannot ignore and that those of us in the sports world are that I am closer to this issue than we realize.

Coach Commits Suicide in 2021

As reported by NBC News “John Geddert had agreed to surrender at a sheriff’s office Thursday, February 23rd before a 2:15 p.m. arraignment, but he never showed up, Rossman-McKinney said. Geddert, who led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, was charged with 20 counts of human trafficking and forced labor resulting in injury, one count of racketeering, two counts of criminal sexual conduct, and one count of lying to police, according to a state criminal complaint filed in Eaton County.”

It’s easy to look outside of team personnel and assume that we only need to protect our athletes from unwise choices or those who may unduly harm them. However, between Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State it’s clear students aren’t always safe with team doctors or with coaches.

This is Everyone’s Fight

ECPAT-USA Trafficking in the Hotel Industry:

Due to the anonymous, risk-free nature of the hospitality industry, children across the globe are exploited in hotels—ranging from budget properties to luxury resorts. Hotel associates are uniquely situated to identify and report suspicious activity. From check-in to check-out there are a number of indicators victims and traffickers exhibit during the time they are on hotel property. With proper training, a front desk agent or a housekeeper can notice that something is not right and respond.

A21 – Bodies Are Not Commodities Reach, Rescue, Restore

Slavery is the fastest growing organized crime in the world. It’s real, hidden in plain sight, and tearing at the social fabric of every nation and economic structure. But that’s why we exist— 21st century abolitionists determined to bring change.

World Relief – Advocacy

World Relief intercedes on behalf of those who are suffering, in poverty or without protection, in order to influence those in positions of power who can save lives. We seek to not only defend and speak up on behalf of the vulnerable but with and alongside them.

Our commitment to advocating on behalf of the poor and oppressed is based on biblical truths and on the example of Jesus. We believe that such advocacy is an important witness to a watching world about the character of Jesus.

To that end, the World Relief Advocacy Team seeks to:

  • Address structural inequality & violence
  • Increase awareness
  • Build a movement for justice
  • Deepen empathy and understanding
  • Catalyze engagement

More #EndIt Partners linked here

When we know better we do better. Consider these recent global statistics:

  • ILO says forced labor generates annual profits of US$ 150 billion
  • Report finds illegal gain from forced labor of about 21 million people amounts to three times more than prior estimates.
  • At any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage.
  • It means there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world.
  • 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.
  • Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labor imposed by state authorities.
  • Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors

Today many live by the philosophy that it’s fine to do whatever you want as long as it feels good. We also seem to look the other way when rich people do horrendous things other people go to jail for as long as they apologize. Further, without laws that accurately address the true issue of human trafficking, we will never be able to hold perpetrators accountable. The reality is when it comes to ending human trafficking in connection with large sporting events the NFL, NBA, and other professional organizations need to clean themselves up first.

Sports Leaders at all Levels Must Be Better Examples:

Kraft was charged in late February after police conducted a sex trafficking bust around a chain of spas that included Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida. At least 45 suspects were arrested and 171 arrest warrants were issued in the bust, according to police. Police say that men arrested in the bust were videotaped paying for sexual services at the spas.  Kraft reportedly refused a plea deal that would have resulted in no charges if he admitted guilt, according to reports from CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

Ending human trafficking in the sports industry starts right here. By holding people like Kraft accountable for their poor choices the NFL could take a stand in a vital way.

Vanity Fair’s Summary Says it All:

Human trafficking is a serious problem: The Department of Health and Human Services calls it the world’s “fastest-growing criminal industry.” But some anti-trafficking groups, in search of funding, routinely overstate the scale of the commercial sex trade. They frequently claim that 300,000 minors are “at-risk” for being sold into sexual slavery in America each year—a number that has been debunked by researchers as wildly overinflated. (The Washington Post dismisses it as a “nonsense statistic.”) In 2018, the FBI confirmed a total of 649 trafficking cases in America, adults included.

Even if he is found guilty, however, Kraft has little to fear in the way of punishment. In Florida, as in most other states, the purchasing of sex is a misdemeanor. The few first-time johns who wind up being convicted typically pay a fine and perform no more than 100 hours of community service. The selling of sex, however, is policed far more severely. Sex workers are more likely than johns to face repeated arrest, increasing the odds that they will be charged with a felony and sentenced to prison, and have fewer resources to defend themselves in court. And “madams” who profit from the prostitution of others—the charge leveled against Mandy and Lulu—can be convicted of money laundering if the proceeds are deposited in a bank, or used to pay rent, or buy milk.

While Kraft’s legal team fights to have the charges against him dismissed, one of the alleged sex workers arrested in the raids, Lei Chen, remains in ICE custody. Under civil forfeiture proceedings, the state seized her J.P. Morgan Chase account, which held $2,900. Until August 21, when she was transferred to another immigration facility, Chen was held at the detention center in West Palm Beach, a half-mile from a strip club where Stormy Daniels performed, and across from the Trump International Golf Club.

Another alleged sex worker, Yaping Ren, was also held for five months, waiting to be handed over to ICE, before being released in July. Her status remains uncertain: Her attorney told me that he has been unable to determine whether she is going to be deported. The county has only two court-certified Mandarin interpreters, who charge $400 an hour—a prohibitively high fee for his clients. Under Florida law, it would appear, happy endings are the exclusive property of men.

What Will You Do?

What will you do to truly help get awareness out about the truth regarding human trafficking? Will you spread conspiracy theories or will you promote and support organizations that are doing the hard work to truly free people from human trafficking around the globe?

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