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February 4, 2013

Sex Trafficking at the Super Bowl

The power may have temporarily gone out during the big game in New Orleans, but there is darkness outside of the Superdome all day, every day.

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“The Super Bowl is commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”

Texas attorney general Greg Abbott uttered those words with backing from various human trafficking organizations and law enforcement agencies before the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas. This year in New Orleans, precautions were taken to ensure justice would be served on the ground.

Louisiana’s Human Trafficking Joint Task Force, established in 2006, met regularly in advance of Super Bowl XLVII with city, state, and federal law enforcement authorities, faith-based groups, and nongovernmental organizations to develop a collaborative approach to combat the problem. Thanks to both undercover work and tips from citizens and observers who saw signs of trafficking and called the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888), authorities were able to make several arrests in sex trafficking rings over the weekend.

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“Any time you have a major event and a lot of people coming to town, you worry about people getting exploited,” says Ray Parmer, New Orleans’s local special agent-in-charge with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. “It’s always a problem and often it goes undetected, because these are victims and they’re coerced into the positions that they’re in to perform whatever function that the traffickers want them to do.”

Clemmie Greenlee was a victim of sex trafficking in the South for more than 20 years before being rescued from her life of sex slavery at the age of 42. Abducted and gang-raped by her captors at age 12, Clemmie was transported all across the South for major events such as the Super Bowl, and was often injected with heroin and handcuffed to beds. For trying to run away, she was once stabbed in the back.

After escaping to Nashville in her 30s, Greenlee continued using heroin and prostituted herself before making contact with a former sex worker who had graduated from Magdalene House, a safe house program for victims of sex trafficking in Nashville. The woman encouraged Greenlee to seek help at the Magdalene House, and she eventually did.

“The one thing I had in my head was, If I learn how to live and heal, I can get back and get those girls. I can go back and tell people what they do to us," Greenlee told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I’m not ashamed of what done happened to me. I don’t care if I never get a husband. It just don’t make no sense that we had to go through this.”

Greenlee completed the Magdalene House’s two-year-live-in program before heading back to New Orleans and starting Eden House, Louisiana’s first shelter for sex-trafficking victims. The shelter is modeled after Magdalene House’s curriculum, and opened its doors to two former prostitutes in November.

The Magdalene House is founded in “24 Spiritual Principles” instated by founder Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest on Vanderbilt University’s campus, in 1997, and has raised more than $12 million in private donations and grants during its time of expansion from one house to six in the greater Nashville area.

“I want the women here to be employed, to have financial security, and to be able to change their tires,” Stevens says of Magdalene. “A ministry that doesn’t concern itself with the economic well-being of its recipients is just so much wind.”

In addition to using music, stories, and spiritual support and curriculum to help the women back to health, Magdalene requires women enrolled in the program to invest in Thistle Farms, Magdalene’s business enterprise started in 2001, that turns thistles into earth-friendly bath and beauty products.

So how can we, as concerned Christian women, join in the fight against human trafficking? As law enforcement officials continue to carry out justice in cities nationwide and nonprofits including Eden House in New Orleans begin expanding, here are some basic tips and ways to get involved:

Awareness: Keep your eyes open for instances of human trafficking, and call the National Human Trafficking Hotline if you see signs: 1-888-373-7888. Also, visit the Polaris Project’s map of state-by-state resources to contact rescue and restoration centers to support near you: State-by-State Map of Anti-Human Trafficking Resources and Organizations

Rescue: Support anti-human-trafficking legislation in your hometown/state.

Act: Start prayer groups and organizations at your church to pray for women and men lost in human trafficking worldwide, and commit to serving at local outreach and rehabilitation facilities together. Also consider starting fundraisers or clothing drives to donate to safe houses nationwide–Magdalene House’s waiting list is more than 100 women long, and Eden House is currently accepting gently used furniture and materials as they look to open their doors to increasing numbers of women seeking restoration in New Orleans.

Read: TCW profiled anti-human trafficking advocate Katariina Rosenblaat in our September/October 2012 issue, and blogged about 3 Ways to Stop Human Trafficking At Home and Abroad in January 2013.

Do you know any churches or faith-based organizations making a difference in the fight against human trafficking? Share their stories with us at tcw@christianitytoday.com.

Allison J. Althoff is TCW's associate online editor. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.

Related Tags: Abuse; Character; Healing; Self-image; Service; Sex Trafficking; Super Bowl; Sex Trafficking; Human Trafficking

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