I don’t delve into the macabre often. I don’t even watch Law & Order. Thinking about monstrous people isn’t something I enjoy. I understand the obsession with true crime, but podcasts featuring tales of sex trafficking, torture, murder, and rape are the last thing I associate with relaxation.
There is a place to talk about crazy fucked up shit, and often sports ain’t it. Bring up a story about human trafficking at the Super Bowl in the run up to The Big Game and watch how many people fidget uncomfortably until they can talk about wide receiver matchups again.
A recent story out of the Southwest caught my eye because the headline was so alarming and attention grabbing, and I thought, hell, this is as good a time as any to bring attention to an awful aspect of our world.
A Texas family was reunited with their 15-year-old daughter after she left her seat to use the restroom at a Mavs game and never came back. The girl was located — with more help from a Houston-based human trafficking agency than law enforcement — 200 miles away as part of a sex-trafficking ring.
The girl’s father notified police at the game, who told him to call the police department where he lives in North Richland Hills. They told him they couldn’t help because the incident happened in Dallas, according to the story.
Missing persons reports were filed and time passed. The family wasn’t satisfied and reached out to the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative, who located a nude photo of the girl used for online sex advertisements through facial recognition software and notified Oklahoma City Police. The police then found the teen and arrested eight people in connection with the case.
That’s mortifying, and thank god that girl is safe. Hopefully she’s not irrevocably scarred. Things don’t always work out for the better, and there probably wouldn’t be a story if she was still missing.
Zeke Fortenberry, the attorney for the family of the girl, said the parents sent letters to multiple parties involved with the case — the American Airlines Arena, the Mavericks, the Dallas police, and the Oklahoma City hotel where the girl was found — to see how they could’ve prevented the horrific situation. As of the publishing of this story, the family has yet to receive a response, and Fortenberry said he hopes to hear back soon so the matter can be solved without a lawsuit.
Sports and sex trafficking
I’m just going to rattle off a few human trafficking stats while I have you here, because the numbers are staggering/appalling and should be acknowledged.
A 2017 report found that there are nearly 25 million people trapped in human trafficking, aka human slavery. It’s a $150 billion a year business, and even though only 19 percent of victims are trafficked for sex, 66 percent of the global profits come from exploitation for sexual purposes.
While situations like the one is Dallas can happen, those cases are outliers, according to the Polaris Project, a group dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking and educating the public. Usually, victims come from vulnerable, exploitable situations, and not Liam Neeson’s Taken-like abductions.
There also have been numerous articles looking at the relationship between large sporting events and human trafficking. An ESPN piece from 2019 said that although it hasn’t been documented, the Super Bowl is the largest sex-trafficking event in the world.
However, a Washington Post article prior to this year’s Super Bowl interviewed sex workers who contended that the perception of sex trafficking at the Super Bowl leads to the arrest of sex workers, not traffickers. An academic study found that trafficking doesn’t increase during those periods.
A crackdown during the week of this year’s Super Bowl in L.A. rescued more than 80 victims, so who the hell knows how true it is. I think we can agree, though, that whatever the impetus is for the stings, it’s great that people were rescued.
Headlines like the one at the top of this article earn clicks and shares because it’s a terrifying story. It might be good content for a podcast, but in actuality, human trafficking seems substantially harder to combat than Neeson makes it seem.
Thank God the girl was located and reunited with her family. Hopefully, her story brings about some good, and it leads to more awareness and victims being returned to the waiting arms of loved ones.