The New York Times had a great opportunity recently to create awareness about the face of slavery today -- human trafficking of women and girls for commercial sex -- off the Op-Ed page (home of the tremendous work and impact of Nicholas Kristof) and into the pages of its equally influential Sports section. But, in the context of a story focused on the Super Bowl ("Jump in Prostitution Arrests in Super Bowl Week"), the Times punted.
Perhaps because the Times views "prostitution" as an inevitable if undesirable feature of the urban scene, particularly in relation to big events like the Super Bowl.
Perhaps because the Times didn't want to take sides in an emerging discussion of how much we, as a society, can accept in allowing human trafficking to continue in our communities.
Or perhaps because the Times (or at least the editors of the Sports section!) simply don't take human trafficking seriously, as the headline suggests.
We don't know.
But here's what we think the story could have included...
...The personal testimonies of sexual-trafficking victims turned victim advocates, (quite easy to find on the web and through advocacy groups)...
...The work done by trained volunteers from the eight Junior Leagues of New Jersey, who worked in implementing the S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) program...
...Or what experts from Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that fights human trafficking, have to say about the documented statistics on sex trafficking in all 50 states. Your reporter interviewed Polaris Project representatives, but the facts didn't get in the story.
We all know that the Super Bowl is a great event, full of high spirits, energy and fun...so in a sense I can appreciate that human trafficking is kind of a "downer." But I also think that empowering those who do read the Sports page and did attend the Super Bowl with the information to possibly take action if they saw or sensed something, is important. More and more hotels are getting involved in the issue and doing their part. The media could have played an important role, but I guess it's just not in the playbook.
Why do we care? Because Junior League members from around the world believe that human trafficking is one of the great social issues of our day, and many are acting on their passion to address it at the grassroots level.
Working as a member of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the Junior Leagues of New Jersey State Public Affairs Committee was a forceful advocate for the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act in 2013, signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in May 2013. The legislation not only creates a Commission on Human Trafficking to review laws and enforcement in New Jersey and make recommendations to state policy makers, it also establishes a fund to provide victims' services, promote awareness, and develop training and educational materials while increasing both financial penalties and prison time for those who traffic individuals. Human trafficking has been a key focus of the New Jersey Leagues for almost a decade and, since 2009, the State Public Affairs Committee has held multiple conferences dedicated to the issue as it affects New Jersey.
The Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee has also become an advocate for policies and programs that stop human trafficking, advocate for victims, and educate the community at large. Among its initiatives is legislation that would allow victims of sexual trafficking to delete their human trafficking-related arrest and criminal records
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law in January that will afford 16- and 17-year-old victims of sex-trafficking the same protection as those currently given to younger victims, among those helping the legislation to pass was the New York State Public Affairs Committee of the Junior League. The law is designed to prevent the re-victimization of children by providing them with services instead of jail time.
The Michigan State Council of Junior Leagues has been lobbying for stricter human trafficking laws for five years and MSC members are widely viewed as human trafficking experts in their communities.
And many individual Leagues also have their own human trafficking initiatives, too.
But our work in addressing human trafficking is just the latest example of how Junior Leagues have often been ahead of the times, like members in Brooklyn advocating for a New York City program that provided the model for free school lunches for at-risk children nationwide, and members marching in St. Louis for women's right to vote before the passage of the 19th Amendment, and members in Ohio testifying in hearings leading to the passage of the Clean Water Act, and members in Florida advocating for a law requiring safety seats in motor vehicles for children between ages 4 and 7, and members in Denver advocating for a statewide drop-out prevention program for high-schoolers, and New York State members advocating for judges to exercise discretion in adjudicating criminal cases involving victims of domestic violence.
Because sometimes you just need to take a stand for what you know is right!