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Op-Ed: Applying the Lessons We've Learned about Ending the Scourge of Trafficking

Super Bowl used to remind people that problem of forced labor and sex trade exists every day of the year

hans dekker
Hans Dekker

In the 12 months since the Community Foundation of New Jersey and several of our fundholders joined with others to stamp out human trafficking around the 2014 Super Bowl, we have come to learn two things.

The first is that trafficking -- namely forced labor and commercial sex -- continues to be a major problem across our state and country, including during major sporting events. The second is that the best way for ordinary citizens to help defeat this scourge is by raising awareness.

We know, based on our work in New Jersey, that the Super Bowl, which is typically the country’s most-watched TV event, provides a singular opportunity to focus attention on human trafficking.

It is why, as Phoenix prepares to host next week’s Super Bowl, leading organizations such as Polaris are working with Clear Channel and the McCain Institute to sponsor billboards across Arizona reminding people that human trafficking happens 365 days a year.

In addition to billboards, Arizona has called attention to trafficking in myriad ways. The state’s Human Trafficking Council adopted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign and distributed its promotional materials, including specially designed indicator cards to help law enforcement and first responders identify instances of trafficking. At the local level, many Arizonans also participated in awareness-raising political rallies and “Run Against Trafficking” 5K RAT Races.

In New Jersey last year, we got behind a distinctly grassroots approach, in which the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking organized and deployed volunteers from across the region to visit hotels and motels in the vicinity of MetLife Stadium.

A week before the 2014 Super Bowl, more than 400 trained volunteers spoke to staff at more than 300 hotels about human trafficking, ways to spot it, and what to do if they think it is going on in their establishment. The volunteers shared pictures and information on teens missing from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, two of whom were recognized by hotel staff members. As part of the outreach, the Community Foundation also underwrote the cost of soap bars with the national Human Trafficking hotline (888-3737-888) on them that were offered to the hotels for in-room use. We took the model to Asbury Park just this month and will continue to visit hotels and motels across New Jersey on this issue.

The one-on-one conversations these volunteers had with hotel staff were incredibly important, but represent just one of the ways in which to raise awareness. So we next took our shared message online. Again partnering with the New Jersey Coalition, we participated in the #HTchallenge social media campaign, in which more than 550 Facebook and Twitter posts on human trafficking were launched during the Super Bowl halftime, reaching over 1 million people and netting almost 4 million impressions. This same campaign will be deployed during next week’s game and we look forward to participating again.

New Jersey has made enormous progress in combatting human trafficking, with strong new laws to make prosecuting suspected traffickers more seamless and help victims find needed support. And the state commission on human trafficking is investigating meaningful ways to revise existing legislation, enhance victims’ services and heighten public awareness, all with an eye toward getting this problem under control. Still, there is more work to be done.

No matter the platform, billboard or tweet, and no matter the backdrop, the Super Bowl or an ordinary Sunday, the fight against human trafficking will be won by empowering members of our communities with the know-how to identify and report this crime. We thank our partners who are raising awareness on this issue on Super Bowl Sunday and every day after.

For the young girl or boy enslaved in a permanent cycle of forced labor or sexual violence, we ask you to help. Donate online, sign up to volunteer, and participate in next week’s #HTChallenge social media campaign. Together we can eliminate this scourge.

Hans Dekker is president of the Community Foundation of New Jersey. He serves on NJ Spotlight's governing board; the foundation is NJ Spotlight's fiscal agent.

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