When they’re the Super Bowl, the biggest football game, and the North American International Auto Show, the biggest car show, chances are it’s crowds and human trafficking.
Combined, they are mammoth events – last year nearly 800,000 people attended the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and this year some 81,000 are expected to pack into MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII. And both events, according to law enforcement, are magnets for human trafficking, including the commercial sexual exploitation of minors.
For most of us, this is the stuff of newspaper headlines, and far removed from our lives. But sometimes a single person can make a big difference in dealing with a big problem. Consider the story of Theresa Flores, trafficking survivor and founder of S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution). The S.O.A.P. website tells us: “Theresa Flores travels the U.S. sharing her story of trafficking and being a sex slave while living in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit, Michigan. At 15 years of age, she was drugged, raped and tortured for two long years. Kept in bondage, forced to pay back an impossible debt as a sex slave. All the while living at home, attempting to keep her family safe.”
One of S.O.A.P.’s key initiatives is working with other organizations to train their members in the warning signs of trafficking before being sent out to bring small bars of soap to the operators of area hotels and motels in advance of major events like the Super Bowl and the Auto Show. The soap is labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and information and, by being left in the guest rooms, is meant to give important information to possible trafficking victims.
And that’s where Junior Leagues in New Jersey and Michigan enter the story.
The Junior Leagues of New Jersey State Public Affairs Committee, representing eight Leagues in the state, has for years been concerned about human trafficking in New Jersey. With the approach of Super Bowl XLVIII, NJSPAC teamed up with other members of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking to carry out a human trafficking awareness program centered around the S.O.A.P. initiative that is funded by The Community Foundation of New Jersey.
The Junior League of Birmingham, for the second year, partnered with S.O.A.P. to create awareness in advance of the Auto Show. The Michigan State Council of Junior Leagues has been lobbying for stricter Human Trafficking laws for five years. Representing the nine individual Junior Leagues across the state, MSC members are widely viewed as human trafficking experts in their communities.