In the week leading up to the Super Bowl my Facebook feed was exploding with information regarding sex trafficking.There were articles like this one, which included first-hand accounts from victims, as well as videos like this one and the one below.
I was excited to see the increase in awareness around the time of the Super Bowl because I hoped that it would prompt a crack down on trafficking activities. In fact, that’s actually what ended up happening. For example, Attorney General John Hoffman of New Jersey “assembled a task force, which, among other things, aim[ed] to teach the public how to identify and assist trafficking victims.” Additionally, “this year’s host, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie [was] tweeting frequently about sex trafficking at the Super Bowl and his state’s commitment to stop it.”
As excited as I was for all this awareness, there were other articles popping up on my news feed that were challenging some of these assertions around sex trafficking at the Super Bowl. It only stands to reason that an increase in tourists for such a sporting event would lead to an increase in the business. That being said, when I started to look into the statistics I discovered that the increase of sex trafficking during the Super Bowl may not actually be much more than what is taking place during the other days of the year. According to Julie Ham, a former researcher with the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, “given how serious trafficking actually is, it’s really obscene seeing all these resources — money, time, political will — to tackle something that’s not there. Or when this rumour is used as excuse to harass and intimidate sex workers,”
In spite of Ham’s suggestion that some of the hype was ill-founded, after the Super Bowl it was revealed that the FBI cracked a prostitution ring that had been using girls as young as 13.
So I should be happy that the awareness raised for human trafficking actually produced some results, right? Well I am, but I’m also concerned. While we were focused on the problem of human trafficking most of us overlooked how the trafficking “crack down” also opened up opportunities for police to harass sex workers in order to “clean up” the city for the Super Bowl. I’m torn because in our efforts to support a good thing, the fight against human trafficking, we often end up enabling a corrupt system to discriminate against an already vulnerable community: sex workers.
This is the same struggle I articulated in my last article on selling sex. In that post I shared my personal experience with “battling” human trafficking and how I was humbled and reminded that reading a book on something doesn’t make you an expert. That post also touches on two different legal approaches to prostitution that are being applied around the world. I referred to the two methods as either the abolition/Nordic Model approach or the regulation approach. While the Nordic Model strives to abolish prostitution by targeting the demand (criminalizing the purchase of sex), regulation advocates argue that sex work should be treated as legitimate work and legislation should be introduced that would better protect those working in the field. These two method’s are especially relevant now that the Canadian government has struck down several laws around prostitution and are looking to introduce one of two very different kinds of legislation regarding sex work.
I’ve shared before that my personal bias is for the Nordic Model, but the more I research that model the more I hear that these Nordic countries have implemented their model of legislation with very few of them creating a socially supportive infrastructure. As a result, this form of legislation has led to just as much harm to sex workers, if not more.
So the Super Bowl is over, and the hype around sex trafficking is starting to be forgotten, but us Canadians still have to consider how we want our country to respond to prostitution. Do we institute the Nordic Model with the goal of ending human trafficking by targeting the “demand” side of prostitution? Or do we regulate prostitution with the hopes of protecting those who are already doing sex work?
Let me know what you think, because as you can probably tell I am still very torn on this issue. I want to support the form of legislation that is most likely to support the vulnerable, but I’m starting to wonder if either option will really serve to protect as well as it promises to.