Houston hosts Super Bowl 51 on Feb. 5 – and with the event comes heightened attention to human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular.
Minal Patel Davis, special adviser on human trafficking to the mayor of Houston, told EthicsDaily.com in a video interview that Houston is fielding increased inquiries on the topic because of the belief that “x-number of sex slaves arrive in the city” for the Super Bowl.
There is no real data set as such to support this belief, said Davis, who is the first person to hold the special advisory position since its creation in 2015.
Davis said one study has tracked an increase in the number of online sex ads appearing in Super Bowl host cities in conjunction with the event. However, online sex ads can include people who engage in paid sex voluntarily as well as involuntarily.
Houston, the country’s fourth largest city, has been referred to as “the hub” of human trafficking in the United States.
Davis said Houston generates the most calls of any Texas city to the national human trafficking hotline number, but Texas has about half the number of calls that California has.
“We’re not quite sure exactly where the hub or multiple hubs are. And that is because to determine that, you need a true prevalence study,” said Davis, referring to credible sex-trafficking data on proportions of particular populations at particular times.
Prevalence studies are hard to come by, however, given the danger they pose to both the trafficking victim and researcher.
The upshot: Houston is combatting human trafficking not necessarily because of a wealth of specific data on Super Bowl behaviors, but because the city believes, based on other data, that human trafficking, including sex trafficking, is an everyday problem.
In fact, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and earlier this month EthicsDaily.com carried a package of stories on human trafficking.
One column was authored by Elizabeth Goatley, assistant professor of social work at Baylor University, who also spoke with EthicsDaily.com in a recent video interview.
Goatley offered several handles for people of faith on the topic of human trafficking.
First, human trafficking includes both labor and sex trafficking. Goatley said the latter gets more attention because it may be easier to identify.
Second, human trafficking is “contextualized to your environment.” Goatley advised churches to pay attention to the poverty around them, noting how people are trying to survive – with some behaviors that may be linked to human trafficking.
Third, Goatley reminded people of faith that trafficking can involve any person of any race, ethnicity or background.
Both Goatley and Davis emphasized that human trafficking is an ongoing problem – and more systemic than Super Bowl-driven attention might suggest.
“What we have in place is a long-term, four-year response,” said Davis, who appeared alongside Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and a host of public service and safety representatives at a Jan. 12 press conference on the problem of trafficking.
“We are working on this every day,” said Davis. “It’s an everyday reality.”