The Silent Sports Trade: Sex Trafficking

I am an athlete, I am a fan, and I am a woman.

As an athlete, I celebrate. I celebrate the skills and lessons I learned on the field (and truth be told, sitting on the bench).

As a fan, I cheer. I cheer because I love the feeling of solidarity and community that comes from a shared commitment to a local or professional sports team.

Ziba (center) after finishing the Casablanca Course Feminine – a 10K run for women – organized by Nawal el Mutawakel, the first Arab woman to win Gold at the Olympics.

But as a woman, I cringe. I cringe because I know that some of our most celebrated sporting events, from the Super Bowl to the World Cup, are also the occasion of a terrible crime: the sex trafficking of tens of thousands of women and children.

Experts estimated that as many as 10,000 prostitutes descended on last year’s Super Bowl in Miami, many of whom were trafficked. And it’s not just American football. Tekla Roberts, a trafficking survivor and anti-trafficking activist, spoke of her first-hand experience at NASCAR races and golf tournaments.

A study by the Future Group noted that during the year of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the number of known human trafficking victims nearly doubled. With more than 2 million people trafficked each year globally, most of whom are women and girls, the problem is obviously larger than sporting events. But because of its high profile, the sports industry has a unique opportunity to address this issue.

So what are the changemakeHERS among us doing to tackle this problem? Experts in this field often point to the 4P approach to combating trafficking: prevention, protection, prosecution and policy.

There are a few interesting examples involving individual Changemakers from the sports and airline sectors. One such example is Trafficking911, which launched its “I’m not buying it” campaign around the 2010 Super Bowl. Several athletes, including Dallas Cowboy Jay Ratliffe, got behind the effort and recorded a compelling video stating “real men don’t buy sex.”

The Airline Ambassadors, the industry’s relief and development organization, partnered with the nonprofit Innocents at Risk to educate airline personnel and issue procedural guidelines for addressing suspects of trafficking on flights. Free Generation International launched its “RED Card against Trafficking” campaign in conjunction with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but it struggled to find corporate partnerships willing to associate their brands with this important but difficult issue.

These efforts are commendable, but to really make change in an issue that crosses sports and countries, companies need to get involved. Having worked for the past seven years in corporate responsibility at Nike, I was incredibly fortunate to broker partnerships between my company and nonprofits around the world. We focused on supporting programs that leveraged the power of sport to bring about positive social change, from women’s empowerment to conflict resolution. But it is time for us to also work with this industry to address the dark underbelly of its own events.

I look forward to hearing ideas and solutions from the community of ChangemakeHERS about how to help the sports industry realize its full potential when it comes to empowering and protecting women.

- Ziba Cranmer, Vice President

This post was written for and posted by Ashoka's Changemakers Idea ExChange Blog as part of its 2011 HERS Campaign in celebration of International Women's Day.


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