Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), cites numbers from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that claim 10,000 women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl.
© Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Melysa Sperber (center) moderates a congressional briefing with survivors of human trafficking to discuss solutions Monday. Lawmakers and advocacy groups used the three-hour hearing to shine a spotlight on sex trafficking during major national and international sporting events.
Beyond the bright lights of this week's Super Bowl parties in New York and New Jersey, sex trafficking will flourish in the shadows, Congress was told Monday.

"In less than a week, New Jersey will be hosting the Super Bowl, and along with welcoming enthusiastic fans, the state also is preparing for a likely influx of both domestic and international traffickers," Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) said at a House hearing.

"We know from the past, any sports venue - especially the Super Bowl - acts as a sex-trafficking magnet."

Lawmakers and advocacy groups used the three-hour hearing to shine a spotlight on sex trafficking during major national and international sporting events.

The trafficking is defined as inducing someone to have sex for money through fraud or coercion.

Smith, co-chairman of the House anti-human trafficking caucus, cited numbers from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that claim 10,000 women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl.

Although some antitrafficking groups dispute such numbers as wildly inflated, several advocates said they have been working to make sure women and children are not exploited in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

"When people come to these games, they come for the game, but they also come for the party and the good time, and this is how some people define a good time," said Melanie Gorelick of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Training sessions have been held over the past several months to give hotel and transportation workers in New Jersey and New York tools for spotting possible trafficking victims, advocates said.

Hotel receptionists and security personnel, they said, have been told to be on the lookout for people checking in multiple younger guests without luggage and paying in cash.

And cops and transit workers have been advised to look for young people who act suspiciously, give evasive answers and carry no personal identification.

Carol Smolenski, who heads the nonprofit End Child Prostitution and Trafficking-USA, said her group most recently led a session on Jan. 10 for representatives of Jersey City's 25 hotels.

Hotel workers must know about formal reporting policies, or they will assume they are expected to look the other way, said Smolenski, whose group also met this month with law enforcement agencies in New York City.

And at least one group has distributed tiny bars of soap with wrappers bearing toll-free hotline of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, although it is not clear if any hotels actually are using them.

One prominent anti-trafficking group, the Thailand-based Global Alliance Against Traffic of Women, said in a 2011 report that there is "no evidence of a link between large sporting events and trafficking for prostitution."

Still, lawmakers on Monday said there is no question that trafficking is a global problem that must be taking seriously this week in New York and New Jersey.

"Online customers choose websites like Backpage and other advertisers to order an underage girl to their hotel room as easily as if they were ordering a delivery pizza," Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said.

"Now just think about that for a second. Close your eyes and picture your daughter, your niece, or any young girl that you care about being sold for exploitation to a complete stranger."

Luis CdeBaca, who oversees State Department efforts to fight sex trafficking overseas - and at even larger sporting events like soccer's World Cup - called the practice "nothing short of modern day slavery."

"It has no place in the 21st century," CdeBaca said.