Photo Courtesy of 3 Generations
Jan 31
January 31, 2014

Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl: An Interview with 'TRICKED' Director Jane Wells



With the biggest event in American football set to kick off in East Rutherford, NJ, in only two days, media outlets have been exploring Super Bowl-related stories that go beyond the match-up.Meteorologists are speculating whether the Super Bowl could see its first cold-weather face-off in NFL history, as industry insiders discuss the high price tags for 30-second spots.

Meanwhile, a darker side of America’s most-watched sporting event is also making headlines. Human rights advocates have warned that Super Bowl XLVIII—expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to New Jersey—is ripe for perpetrators of human trafficking, including forced prostitution, due to the demand and logistical options in the region surrounding MetLife Stadium.

“One Super Bowl after another after another has shown itself to be one of the largest events in the world where the cruelty of human trafficking goes on for several weeks," U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who recently led a House subcommittee on human trafficking, told the Associated Press. While no firm statistics exist on the number of human trafficking offenses that happen during Super Bowls, the AP reports, and some question the veracity of a spike, the New Jersey attorney general has formed a Super Bowl task force that has trained law enforcement and community members to recognize human trafficking victims, including people who may be forced or coerced into sexual exploitation.

Among the anti-human trafficking advocates recently interviewed by the press was CGI member Jane Wells, whose documentary “TRICKED” was released in December. "TRICKED," which sheds light on the North American sex trade, emerged from the filmmaker's 2010 CGI Commitment to Action aiming to curb child sex slavery in the United States through the use of digital media.

We interviewed Wells about her documentary, the controversy surrounding the Super Bowl, and the urgency of remaining vigilant long after the players leave the field.

CGI: Most people would be surprised to learn of a link between sex trafficking and one of America’s favorite sporting events. Why is sex trafficking such a big concern during the Super Bowl?

Jane Wells: The Super Bowl is one of the great American events and an important part of the American narrative, but this great American family occasion has an undercurrent of a disturbing human rights abuse. This underside is discordant, yet affords an opportunity for all of us to look more closely at an ugly and uncomfortable reality. The Super Bowl catalyzes conversation that needs to carry on throughout the year.

CGI: Your feature-length documentary "TRICKED" exposes the severity of sex trafficking in the U.S. What made you decide to make child sex slavery the focus of your 2010 CGI Commitment to Action, and how did your commitment lead to the creation of "TRICKED"?

JW: Shortly after the 2010 Super Bowl, I read a report that stated that 10,000 people had been brought to that Super Bowl for the purpose of prostitution. I was astounded by the number and decided to investigate further. As a journalist, filmmaker, and human rights activist, I figured that if I didn’t know about this problem then many other Americans likely did not either. That thought lead to investigation, which lead to action—making videos of survivors’ stories—and to a CGI commitment. During the course of our five-year Commitment to Action, we realized that there was a need for a comprehensive documentary feature film on the subject as well as the individual stories of survivors, so we expanded our commitment to make “TRICKED.”

CGI: In the making of your documentary, did you get a sense of who the victims of sex trafficking in America are? Was there a typical profile?

JW: We found that there is no typical profile of a sex trafficking victim. They can be male, female, children, rich, poor, college educated, intellectually disabled. It is a threat that knows no socio-economic or geographic boundary. The only unifying requirement is vulnerability. That said, it is a more likely outcome for those who are made vulnerable by poverty, homelessness, hunger, and drug addiction.

CGI: For the victims you talked to, what was their outlook on escape? What were their prospects for alerting the authorities and returning home?

JW: Escape is distressingly hard — for many reasons. Firstly, victims are emotionally and psychologically entwined with their traffickers and often do not self-identify as victims. Secondly, they are trained to not trust police and often those who should help them are not sympathetic to their plight. Laws across the country still stigmatize and chastise sex workers. They are largely treated as criminals. This has begun to change somewhat during the time we have filmed, but authorities are tasked to enforce the laws that exist in their jurisdictions. While the treatment of minors as victims of trafficking is Federal law and broadly enforced, the more complex area of how we treat adults in the sex industry varies by locale. We saw this again and again in our investigations.

CGI: Your previous documentary focused on Darfur. Was there any comparison between documenting the danger and disturbing nature of one of the most notorious conflicts in recent history and covering the sex trade here in America?

JW: Initially the connective thread was that I viewed the crisis of sex trafficking in the U.S. as a human rights abuse. In Darfur I had observed a different one. Sexual violence as a tool of war and genocide was a given in Darfur. Over the years making “TRICKED,” I came to see the sexual violence and domination in domestic sex slavery as being akin. Latterly, I found the realities of life on the streets of certain urban areas of America to be as alien and terrifying as any I had experienced in Darfur and Sudan. Poverty and desperation are breading grounds for violence and inhumanity anywhere in the world.

CGI: "TRICKED" includes footage of President Barack Obama’s remarks at the 2012 CGI Annual Meeting, where he discussed "the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery." What is the significance of the President making that speech at the meeting, and what made you include that moment in the film?

JW: President Obama’s speech was a great moment for all of us who care about this issue. That it coincided with the anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation gave it added gravitas. I believe he legitimatized the importance of this issue to contemporary audiences who may erroneously believe we live in more enlightened times. The truth is more people are enslaved today than at any time in history. Furthermore, it is cheaper and easier to transport people today and more fiscally productive to enslave someone than at any point in history. President Obama gave us a powerful connective thread from our collective past to a misunderstood and overlooked contemporary injustice. I knew as soon as I heard his words that this speech should be in the film. It was an honor to be present and it was absolutely the highlight of my time at CGI.

President Barack Obama - 2012 CGI Annual Meeting

(Watch: President Obama addresses human trafficking in his remarks at the 2012 CGI Annual Meeting)

CGI: What are some signs that a person is a victim of sex trafficking?

JW: Any minor working in the sex industry is a victim of trafficking and so is any adult who is working there under force, fraud and coercion. So age is a sign. Outward signs such as bruising are signs of force and coercion. A sex worker who is repeatedly dropped off and picked up by the same person may be under pimp control. Another sign can be tattoos that suggest "ownership" by another person. 89% of sex workers report that they would like to leave the industry so it is pretty safe to assume that 9 out of 10 people you run across do not want to be where they are. To my mind, that makes them victims of a human rights tragedy.

CGI: In an interview with the Associated Press on sex trafficking and the Super Bowl, you said that sex trafficking is "a 365-day-a-year problem." Why did you think that was an important point to make?

JW: Because while the Super Bowl is an excellent and important entry point to recognizing this problem in America, it is still only one day of the year. Sex trafficking happens in every city every single day. It is so easy to push this truth aside and become complacent. I like to remind myself at Thanksgiving, Easter, Passover, or Martin Luther King Day that Americans are being trafficked while I am privileged to celebrate with my children and family.

CGI: Do you have any advice for anyone in the CGI community who is concerned about this and wants to take action?

JW: Yes I do—get in touch with me. Watch “TRICKED.” Support NGOs working in this space and learn more.

We need better laws; lobby your politicians. We need more enlightenment in the criminal justice system; think carefully about which district attorney you vote for. This is not an issue that falls along party lines. Police can bring in cases of trafficking but if DAs don’t want to prosecute we will not see much change. Learn to be a good juror if you are called for trial—understand how hard it is for victims to testify against their exploiters. Learn about Stockholm syndrome and how it applies to sex trafficking.


Visit 3 Generations' website to learn more about “TRICKED.”