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State Dept., Homeland Security, Anti-Trafficking Leaders, Delta, AMTRAK, Trafficking Victim Address House PanelHuman Trafficking & The Super Bowl

House human rights panels examines threat of human trafficking at major sports events

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Washington, Jan 27 | Jeff Sagnip ((202) 225-3765) | comments
Human trafficking and the Super Bowl, Olympics and other mega sporting venues were the topic of a hearing held Monday by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights, and author of the landmark law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

    “Lessons Learned from Super Bowl Preparations: Preventing International Human Trafficking at Major Sporting Events,” featured the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, and airline, train and non-government organization (NGOs) anti-trafficking advocates.

    “Our hearing focuses on the preparations for the upcoming Super Bowl to prevent human trafficking and strategies employed by airlines, busses and trains, as well as hotels designed to mitigate human trafficking,” Smith said. “In less than a week, New Jersey will be hosting the Super Bowl, and along with welcoming enthusiastic fans, the state also is preparing for a likely influx of both domestic and international traffickers. Sadly, but almost certainly, they will bring with them sexually exploited trafficking victims—many of them from abroad—in an attempt to cash in on the Super Bowl crowds.  We know from the past, any sports venue—especially the Super Bowl—acts as a sex trafficking magnet.”

    Smith also spoke of Brazil, host of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games next month.  With no formal national procedures to guide Russian law enforcement in the identification of sex trafficking victims Smith is concerned that the 2014 Winter Olympics may turn out to be a “trafficking nightmare.” He noted Russia was given the lowest rating by the annual U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. In Brazil, despite some improvement in its anti-trafficking laws and taking some steps to mitigate trafficking risks, he said there is much more to do “if they want to protect their children from sex tourism.”

    Worldwide, the best estimates are that as many as 800,000 trafficking victims are moved across international borders every year. Millions more victims are moved within national borders.  But anti-trafficking efforts have only recently turned to equipping transportation employees to identify victims in transit. The training is easy, inexpensive, and is already saving lives.

    In preparation for the Super Bowl this weekend, the New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force, which was originally started with seed money from a law Smith authored—the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000—has been working for months to mitigate sex trafficking. It has released anti-trafficking brochures to bus and train employees in New Jersey, as well as reached out to hotels, another major industry on the front lines of spotting traffickers and victims.

    “The only standard that fits the crime of human trafficking—zero tolerance—must be rigorously and faithfully enforced by arrests of those engaged in this nefarious trade—modern-day slavery,” Smith said. “And there can be no higher priority than the liberation and protection of the victims. Combating human trafficking must be continuously prioritized at all levels of government, the faith community, civil society and corporations, including the National Football League. All of us must do our part to protect the women and girls.”

    Maria Odom, Chair of the Blue Campaign at the Department of Homeland Security, testified that victims are often lured with false promises of well-paying jobs or are manipulated by people they trust, and instead are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or types of forced labor. Victims can be any age, citizenship, gender or immigration status, she said.

    “Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery; a crime that involves the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion,” Odom said. “Where a person younger than 18 is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion. Every year, millions of men, women, and children worldwide—including in the United States—are victims of human trafficking.”

    Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca noted that the upcoming Olympic Winter Games will be hosted in Sochi, Russia. He noted that according to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report compiled by the state Department, there “continues to be reports of women and children exploited in sex trafficking in Russia.” Major sporting events also require massive capital improvement and infrastructure construction projects, creating a huge demand for cheap labor, he said. At every step of this process, one can see vulnerabilities to human trafficking.

    “One of the greatest strengths driving the fight against human trafficking in this country is a government that is galvanized in our commitment: a partnership that has included Congresses and Administrations across the political spectrum for more than a decade,” CdeBaca said. “Mr. Chairman, we thank you for this continued, bipartisan success story."

    Other witnesses included Polly Hanson, Chief of Police of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK); Nancy Rivard, President and Founder, Airline Ambassadors International; Carol Smolenski, Executive Director, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking-USA; Letty Ashworth, General Manager of Global Diversity at Delta Airlines; and Holly Smith, a woman who was trafficked as a minor in Atlantic City, N.J. Click here to read the witnesses testimonies, or to watch the hearing.

    Holly Smith told the House subcommittee she was a survivor of child sex trafficking within the United States. At age 14 and newly graduated from middle school, she met a man at the local mall who picked her out of the crowd and asked for her phone number. He convinced her to run away from home with him.

    “Within hours of running away, though, I was forced into prostitution on the streets and in the casino hotels and motels of Atlantic City, New Jersey,” she said. “Thirty-six hours later, I was arrested by police and treated like a criminal. Without appropriate aftercare services, I struggled for many years to overcome my victimization. I struggled with depression, drug abuse, and domestic violence.” She survived and rebuilt her life, and today advocates for victims and prevention. Click here to read Holly’s statement.

    Rivard said Airline Ambassadors worked with Smith to provide a briefing to airlines in 2010 about trafficking, after which American Airlines issued a bulletin to flight personnel and later incorporated the proper reporting protocol into crew manuals.

    “As flight attendants, we know that airlines have infrastructure to provide training to flight crew at virtually no cost during annual emergency procedure trainings. Infrastructure is also in place to communicate proper protocol to ground personnel who would be receiving calls from pilots regarding potential trafficking situations,” Rivard said.

    Ashworth noted that hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked across international borders annually according to the Department of State.

    “In addition, sex tourism presents a significant threat as well, with an estimated one million children sexually abused through tourism industries,” Ashworth said. “Training employees to spot the indicators of human trafficking, enhancing passenger awareness and coordinating with law enforcement worldwide are essential to combating these threats.”
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