Though some reports point to an uptick in human trafficking around the Super Bowl, experts are increasingly denouncing the statistic as a “myth” that detracts from a reality in which the crime is a problem year-round.
And on any given day, that crime is largely happening online. Research suggests the majority of human trafficking activity takes place digitally. A 2012 report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that 76 percent of trafficking transactions for sex with underage girls started on the Internet, World Pulse pointed out. Those findings go hand-in-hand with a 2014 study that discovered 70 percent of child trafficking survivors surveyed were at some point sold online.
“People are posted and sold online multiple times a day,” Asia, a survivor of sex trafficking, told Thorn — the agency behind the 2014 report that studies technology’s role in sex trafficking. “As far as the ad that was posted up [for me]… just [like] you can go find a car, there was a picture, and a description, and a price.”
Widespread Internet access also means the crime can occur anywhere — not just in the places you may expect — Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) pointed out.
“We’re alarmed by what this industry is doing, how it’s growing in the United States, and not just in urban areas around big events,” Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) told EWTN. “Everybody thinks human trafficking and sex trafficking is happening at the Super Bowl, at big events. Well it’s also happening [in] little, rural small towns every single day.”
The Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking advocacy group, points out that in the U.S., runaway and homeless youth, and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and social discrimination are frequently targeted for sexual exploitation by abusers.
The project also points to findings by the International Labor Organization that discovered there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally — a figure which includes those who are exploited and controlled for profit through both forced sex or forced labor.
And the government is doing something about it.
The House of Representatives passed 12 anti-human trafficking bills on Thursday, attempting to crack down on the crime days ahead of the Super Bowl, when awareness surrounding the issue gains a larger spotlight.
While the House’s moves to combat human trafficking are welcomed by the Polaris Project, the group’s spokesperson, Brandon Bouchard, wishes more was being done to crack down on exploitation through forced labor beyond U.S. borders.
“Overall the introduction of these bills is a step in the right direction,” he told TIME. “We just wish Congress would include labor trafficking in their efforts to combat trafficking worldwide.”
Learn more about what you can do at the Polaris Project.