Major sporting events like the Olympics, World Cup and Super Bowl attract thousands of visitors. And where there are crowds, there’s a demand for sex. Rescue of 16 children and 50 women from sex trafficking at the Super Bowl is tremendous news. But these few cases and arrests in New Jersey represent a tiny fraction of men, women and children enslaved in the United States in labor and sex trafficking rings.
If prostitution is the oldest vocation then sex trafficking is probably the oldest human rights violation. Yet after thousands of years, there is very little research on the scope of sex trafficking, how to recognize patterns of trafficking, and how best to identify victims. In the U.S., both policies and the public have denied that sex trafficking is even a problem, except perhaps when minors are involved.
Sex workers are treated by police as criminals rather than victims and given the underworld nature of the profession, a profound mutual distrust has developed between law enforcement and sex workers.
Few efforts have been made to treat sex workers as victims of trafficking. In Dallas for example, two programs (the Prostitution Diversion Initiative and the PRIDE Court) attempt to rehabilitate and provide social services as an alternate to jail time. As a part of these programs, DNA is collected from detained sex workers as a future identification record in case the women are later found dead and unidentified.
In New Haven, efforts are being made to collect DNA from women on the street after “John” encounters in an attempt to identify men soliciting oral sex with under aged girls.
These creative applications of DNA raise some ethical questions about use of genetic information by law enforcement but also serve to address the challenges with scientific evidence. Potentially DNA collected from suspected trafficking victims may be useful to identify missing women and children when compared to the 15,000 Americans reported missing in the National Missing Persons Database (NamUs).
Beyond sex trafficking of Americans, the millions of undocumented residents in the U.S. have little protection against traffickers, both in labor and sex rings. Systematic efforts are needed to develop empirical data on the scope of trafficking in the U.S., which goes far beyond the episodic cases at sporting events. And law enforcement resources should be allocated accordingly to develop strategies to identify and protect victims.