The Ten Commandments, the Super Bowl, and the scourge of sex trafficking

Yesterday, I had the honor to be called to the Torah for the sixth aliyah where we, as in so many synagogues throughout the world, read the 10 commandments. Today, millions of people worldwide prepare to watch American Football’s Super Bowl. Yet, I can’t get out of my mind an article I read a few days ago in USA Today, “Who buys a trafficked child for sex? Otherwise ordinary men.” The article discusses the millions of children sold into sex slavery across the globe.

What do these three things have in common?

“More than 1 million children, according to the International Labour [sic] Organization, are exploited each year in the commercial sex trade,” begins the first in a 10-part series relating to the economic and social forces behind the human sex trade. The author continues to describe children ranging in ages from only 6-years-old until late teens who have been kidnapped, coerced, or otherwise forced into an almost unimaginable horror. I would say, as a father of many children in that age range (my youngest daughter is 6 while my oldest is 22) or as a husband or even as a son, that I am horrified. But the “as a” in this case is beside the point. Reading articles such as these, and there have been many over the years, brings home the fact that we should all be disturbed to our core as human beings that anyone, especially children, suffer such a fate as being forced to engage in sexual acts. Some as often as 30 times a week. Even based on the most conservative accounting, the numbers boggle the mind:

To determine a conservative estimate of the demand, I multiplied the lower number of victims (8,900) identified in the Center for Court Innovation study by the rate of daily exploitation per child (5.4), and then by an average of only one “work” day per week (52). The result: Adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.”

The eighth commandment is often translated “Thou Shall not Steal.”  Yet our sages pointed out that the Torah here is speaking of the capital crime of kidnapping.  “The Torah speaks of stealing souls.” (Sanhedrin 86a) Such a reading is borne out by the juxtaposition to other capital crimes such as murder and illicit sexual relations. Kidnapping alone deserves death; the selling of innocent young lives to a life of sex slavery only heightens the atrocity.

What strikes an even more discordant note is the reaction of some to those who purchase these children for their deviant desires.  When confronted with the source of illicit pleasure, one man responded, “I don’t want to know how the sausage is made.” This rapist, and let’s call him what he is, admitted to purchasing children, in a manner one purchases fast food, on a weekly basis.

Lest we imagine that the world is constantly improving, the article goes on to say, “There’s evidence that the child sex trade is growing. ECPAT International, a research and advocacy organization, concluded in 2016 in a first of its kind global study, that more children than ever are at risk of abuse.”

As horrible as this is, what does this have to do with the Super Bowl?

Like many others, I had bought in to the myth that the hometown of the Super Bowl experienced an influx of prostitution and human trafficking during Super Bowl weekend. As one article suggested, “What lies beyond the public eye is the darker side of Super Bowl weekend. Back in 2013, the idea started to circulate that Super Bowl week might also be the occasion for the highest volume of sex trafficking of the whole year, too.”

Yet, as Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women points out, this is not necessarily the case. “There is a very wide discrepancy between claims that are made prior to large sporting events and the actual number of trafficking cases found. There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.”

Nita Belles, managing director of an anti-trafficking non-profit, as quoted in this article suggests, “I would not go along with some of the myths that have been floated out there like that there are tens of thousands of victims brought to the Super Bowl or that it’s the largest human trafficking event,” yet, she continues, “I also would not say there is no increase in the number of human trafficking victims being brought into the area. I would emphasize that human trafficking happens 365 days a year anywhere there is Internet. So it is here already and it does increase during Super Bowl.”

So, while trafficking of minors and others exists and may actually be on the increase globally, the Super Bowl, while experiencing a slight increase, is not the major catalyst. But is that really such a relief?

On the one hand that is good news; however, the darker side of the coin is that it exists and is increasing. If numbers are to be believed, many people one might not expect seem to participate. As the article in USA Today continues,

It’s tempting to put buyers who exploit children in a box — to say that all of them are pedophiles, a small percentage of the population driven by a deep sickness. But researchers and survivors say that’s not the case.

 

ECPAT International researchers found that the great majority of men who pay to exploit children are opportunists. They don’t set out specifically to buy sex with a child, but neither do they walk away when faced with the temptation.

 

Survivors I interviewed reported similar experiences. One of them, exploited when she was 15, said only two men turned and left the motel room when they saw how young she was. Even those two didn’t notify police about the ongoing abuse of a child.

 

More than 100 other men who paid to have sex with her stayed. “They just didn’t care” about her age, she said.

Followers of the tradition of our prophets and all decent folk can’t help but be outraged.

Hear the word of the LORD, You chieftains of Sodom; Give ear to our God’s instruction, You folk of Gomorrah!  “What need have I of all your sacrifices?” Says the LORD… “That you come to appear before Me— Who asked that of you? Trample My courts And when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime—”

 

“Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings Away from My sight. Cease to do evil; Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.”

 

“Come, let us reach an understanding,” —says the LORD. “Be your sins like crimson, They can turn snow-white; Be they red as dyed wool, They can become like fleece.” (Isaiah 1:10-18)

But how can we wash our hands clean?

Many websites list important suggestions on how to respond to human trafficking such as this one maintained by the US Department of State.

Last year, in a wonderful article in the Huffington Post, a blogger spells out five “commandments” we can utilize to help end this terrible situation:

  1. Education: The more knowledge one has about what child sex trafficking is, the better prepared and equipped one is to stop it. Educate yourself about child sex trafficking. Read books and articles, watch videos, listen to experts.
  2. Recognize the Signs: Whether it is at an airport, a bus station, near a hotel, a nail salon, at a large sporting event, you might pass by a victim of child sex trafficking and not realize it. When you are able to recognize what a victim looks like, you can better help them.
  3. Report Any Suspicions: Uber driver Keith Avila called police after he became suspicious that one of the passengers in his car was a victim of child sex trafficking. His alertness and his phone call rescued a 16-year-old girl from sex trafficking. When you see any suspicious activity you believe may be related to child sex trafficking, make that phone call to 911, or call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center line at 1-888-373-7888.
  4. Raise Awareness: Raise awareness with those you know, whether it is within your circle of friends and family, local churches and faith based groups, your work environment, and even with your local politicians and legislators. Ensure that schools in your area are also aware of child sex trafficking, and how children within their own schools may be potential victims.
  5. Take Action: Become an advocate about child sex trafficking. Speak out about the issue to others within the circles you are associated with. Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers, and to politicians. Encourage your state legislatures to continue to address this issue. Become involved in anti-trafficking efforts where you live, and in your own city and community.

I won’t lie, when I read these articles, it’s hard not to think of my precious little and not so little children. Isn’t it time to protect every child?

This coming Shabbat, we will read, “You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me, and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans.” (Exodus 22:22-24)

Can one read those words and not tremble? How can society allow this to continue? The Torah demands we take action.

About the Author
Rav Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.
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