The hidden problem with America’s Superbowl

I am in no way a fan of American football. I remember my family always watching it when I was younger and I understand some of the rules, but I honestly just don’t care about it.

One thing that did surprise me was the connection the Superbowl had with human trafficking. I had written about it in a final I had for my writing class, but I never had a chance to share it with anyone.

I first learned about human trafficking in a class I took and then in an episode of Law and Order: SVU a few years later. Human trafficking is the exchange of humans, mostly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation for the traffickers. According to, the United States is “principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons.” An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked into the U.S. annually.

I interviewed Santa Clara University adjunct lecturer Dr. Jonathan Fung about the issue and he said when he first learned about human trafficking roughly seven years ago, he made it his mission to bring awareness to the issue. He had attended the Global Leadership Summit and one of the speakers talked about human trafficking.

After attending the conference and educating himself on this issue, Fung said he responded in an angry way. Upon seeing footage of two four-year-old Cambodian girls being sold into slavery, he said his daughter was “four at the time and I couldn’t imagine it happening to her or anyone else kid.”

Several months after the conference, Fung came to a revelation that he needed to use his artistic skills to bring awareness to human trafficking. His short film, Hark, tells the story of a man who is faced with a moral dilemma involving the trafficking of a young girl.

Fung believes the use of arts to bring a social awareness to modern day slavery is important because to people respond with media and with videos. Many people, like me when I was young, do not know how to handle situations where trafficking could be involved.

I remember when I was 16 and I had seen an older white man roughing up a young asian woman. It could have easily been any other domestic violence incident, but I saw extreme fear in her eyes and body posture. It scared me, but I didn’t know what I could do to help her.

After I interviewed Professor Fung, I wanted to find someone who had either first hand experience with human trafficking or had witnessed it. My english professor told me she had also worked on an article about human trafficking and it took her over two years before she found someone to talk to.

So, I went to Facebook, asking for someone who had any kind of experience and I got a message from a friend from school.

Yesenia Tafolla, a San Jose resident, was working at a hotel when she and her coworkers began noticing suspicious behavior from a regular. “Working at a hotel,” Tafolla said, “It’s not surprise that we would get prostitutes.” There had even been incidents where a sex worker had been staying the hotel and the hotel had no idea how she made her money.

The most memorable incident was when an Asian man checked in with a woman’s identification for a week. They did not notice at first because the person in the photo had similar features to the man.

A month later, the same man returned and this time he had a woman accompanying him.

“They booked the room for a month, which meant that they would receive room service for a week,” Tafolla said. She noticed he was never in the room, but he was the only person from the room who talked to the hotel employees.

As two more Asian women, all with Chinese passports, checked in, Tafolla said the hotel staff began to get suspicious and track the foot traffic in and out of the room.

“A cop that the hotel had been working with at the time actually stopped a guy and had him admit that he was going to pay for sex in exchange for letting him go,” Tafolla said.

Eventually, the cop found out the man who was checking in all these girls was wanted for ID theft, check fraud and possible trafficking.

Another incident, the police came to the hotel looking for a different Asian man, but for the exact same reason as the first.

“As we’re talking (to the police), the man walked by, freaked out and ran into our laundry room,” Tafolla said. The police chased him and even though he faked a diabetic coma, he was eventually arrested at the hospital.

Unlike most people, Tafolla knew a lot about human trafficking before working at the hotel.

“I watch a lot of documentaries and human trafficking catches my eye because so much of it happens in Mexico,” she said. While living and visiting Mexico, Tafolla would see prostitutes up and down the streets; some of them were very young.

“When I got older,” Tafolla said, “I started realizing and thinking that maybe those girls weren’t there voluntarily.”

According to, the average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14-years-old, many of who are runaway girls and were sexually abused as children.

Some estimates state approximately 80 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation, while 19 percent involves labor exploitation.

Another person I had interviewed, Janet Giddings said as an ethics teacher, human trafficking is something she had to discuss with her students.

Giddings, a philosophy professor at San Jose State University, said that there was an increase in human trafficking when the Super Bowl came to town.

The McCain Institute for International Leadership supports her claim.

The institute supported research done by the Arizona State University, who sought to investigate and understand the true impact of Super Bowl on sex trafficking. The research, titled, “Exploring Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Demand During the Super Bowl,” focused on the increase in the amount of internet ads for prostitution.

It states, “Recent reports and dozens of news articles strongly point to the Super Bowl as the most prominent national event where sex trafficking flourishes.”

There are estimates of at least “10,000 victims flooding host cities to be offered to willing purchasers intent on buying sex.”

Among the many discoveries the report made, the first is that the large amount of ads offering commercial sex “will exceed the capacity of any one law enforcement agency to respond in such a way to discourage traffickers from coming to their jurisdiction.”

Professor Fung was shocked when he learned human trafficking is a 130 billion dollar industry in comparison to the amount of money raised to combat it, which is 120 million.

human trafficking 2

This is one of the reasons combatting human trafficking as been difficult.

“With that kind of money, it is not enough,” Fung said.

Now Junior linguistics major Emma Cardenas, took Giddings “Moral Issues” class last spring and said the professor discussed human trafficking.

She said Giddings’ class brings issues like human trafficking to light and makes students think critically about social issues. “I think that it’s important for all people, not just as Spartans, to be aware of the issue of human trafficking,” Cardenas said.

Human trafficking is such a large issue in the Bay Area, Cardenas believes that bring awareness to SJSU’s campus of this social issue is vital.

“The Silicon Valley is a place known for its innovative technology, but I think it’s important that we work to also become known as leaders in social justice movements,” Cardenas said.

The residents of the Bay Area tend to pride themselves on their progressive politics and “liberal” attitudes.

In a 2009 report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified San Francisco as one of the 13 areas with the largest incidence of child sex trafficking in the country.

Human trafficking is the process of transforming an individual into a slave.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a stalled bill to fight human trafficking.

The Senate compromised on the trafficking bill, which denied abortion funding to survivors, while passing the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. The trafficking bill was intended to create harsher penalties for perpetrators and support for victims, particularly the young girls who are targeted more often. The bill would help improve law enforcement agencies investigate trafficking, including intercepting communications exchanged.

Clients of traffickers would also be equally responsible for the crimes and the “johns” would be severely punished. There had been debate in the Senate over whether there should be public funding to abortions for trafficking survivors.

In order for human trafficking to be combatted, Fung believes their needs to be even more government policies and legislations aimed at human trafficking.

Police then should be expected to enforce those laws.

Fung’s main goal to bring awareness to the fact human trafficking is in “our back yards.”

(Like this local group in Bay Area: source)

“Most people don’t think too much trafficking happens in our neighborhoods, in our backyards,” Fung said. “People think it’s happening in other places around the world, but it’s happening here.”

For more resources or if you want to report, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 

SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages

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