- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015


Take down this phone number or punch it into your cellphone: 1-888-373-7888. It’s a round-the-clock, toll-free hotline to the nonprofit group Polaris. If you prefer to text, send yours to BeFree or to 233733.

What’s the deal, you ask?

It’s Super Bowl time in Phoenix, which means be on the lookout for human traffickers, pedophiles, johns and prostitution.

The key matchup this year may be between Tom Brady and defending gridiron king Russell Wilson, but America’s annual mano-a-mano event also draws eyes and ears trained on a different sport: Sex and the Super Bowl are natural attractions.

The guys are everywhere, and the gals are hanging too. There’s New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who arrived Monday in Phoenix with his blond, high-heeled partner, Linda Holliday. Meanwhile, Tom Brady’s supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, is scheduled to arrive this weekend after “taking care of the homefront,” he said Wednesday. And, yes, the little Bradys will be in tow.

AUDIO: Deborah Simmons with Andy Parks

But let’s get back to the more serious issue.

There is a 7-foot-tall mobile exhibit in Phoenix that looks like a cellophane-covered pink box holding a doll. Yet there are stark differences between this box and a Barbie doll box.

For one, the box bears a warning sign that reads “For Sale” and “Ages 10-17.” It also has the Shared Hope International logo, and the “dolls” in the box are not real dolls. Rather, they are young female volunteers who take turns reminding Super Bowl fans and other passersby that “Children Aren’t Playthings” and that sex trafficking, even adults-only sex trafficking, is a crime we all need to speak up and out about.

In fact, a 2011 FBI says that 293,000 U.S. children are at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex.

I suspect that number is much higher considering the number of young people with and without parents who have poured across our porous borders the last three or four years. Many of these young people are being corralled by the federal government. But remember, runaway adolescents and teens, kidnapped adolescents and teens and young men and women who cannot find their way are all vulnerable.

To male and female pedophiles.

To pimps.

To rapists.

To illegal immigration “coyotes.”

To drug dealers.

To other nefarious creatures who move about huge events like Super Bowl week.

They strike and they strike quick.

That’s why local authorities and volunteers have been in search-and-rescue mode in Phoenix.

“A lot of people still believe today that trafficking is only something that takes place overseas,” Brad Dennis, who leads the search-and-rescue efforts for Florida-based KlaasKids Foundation, told TV station CBS 5 in Arizona.

He and his coterie of volunteers have no easy task, because Phoenix is not a compact metropolitan area like D.C.

“At last count, we were looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 420 hotels we were trying to hit,” Mr. Dennis said.

Another volunteer said that last Saturday, a full week before the Super Crowd arrived, they went to “every convenience store [and] gas station in the greater Phoenix area.”

That’s a lot of ground to cover, cover again and again — even after the winners of Sunday’s game have donned their champion-designated T-shirts, hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy and toasted themselves with bottle after bottle of champagne.

We must do more.

Elisabeth Corey, who was forced into sex labor by her own family at a young age in a D.C. suburb, explains why: “Trafficking doesn’t look like a stereotype. Everyone has a gift to bring to the world that is hidden under our pain, and survivors are no different.”

Ms. Corey now helps other survivors.

So long after the Super Bowl, if you see something or hear something or know something, call that hotline, 1-888-373-7888, and reach the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. You can call that number even if you are a survivor. And more than 200 languages are available to help you say what you have to say.

Sex trafficking is no joke, and the last laugh won’t be on us if we fail to remain vigilant.

Children aren’t playthings, and they aren’t sex toys.

And it’s up to us to act like we mean it.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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