Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking and the Super Bowl?

Well, it’s Super Bowl weekend.  Who are you cheering for – Carolina or Denver?  Or are you just watching for the commercials?  The Wall Street Journal said that last year the cost was right around $4.5 million for a 30-second spot.  Wow!  Don’t get me wrong; those beer commercials with the puppy and the Clydesdale horses are adorable.  Most of the commercials are cute, but $4.5 million for 30 second cute?  That is a real stretch for me. 

And along with the Super Bowl we hear the stories about how human trafficking and domestic violence spike.  Some reports claim that domestic violence increases by 40% and that it is the single largest day for human trafficking.  While large events like the Super Bowl tend to shine a light on the issues of human trafficking and domestic and sexual violence, the publicity doesn’t do the movement any favors if it begins and ends there. 

The Super Bowl doesn’t cause domestic violence and it doesn’t increase domestic violence.  While I appreciate the increased publicity to the cause, it can also perpetuate dangerous myths.  Domestic violence isn’t an episode of explosive anger because someone had too much to drink or was angry that they lost money on the big game. Domestic violence is a pattern of power and control.  Victims are at the greatest risk when they attempt to leave their partner – when they threaten the control of the abuser.  And that can happen on any day of the year.   The reality is that domestic violence happens every single Sunday – not just this one.

In fact, last Sunday a woman in Battle Creek was assaulted with a hammer.  Last Saturday a pregnant woman was attacked with a baseball bat.  In December, Joy Carpenter was literally beaten to death.  And if you read the “Police and Fire” report in the paper you will always see domestic violence assaults.  I was asked when I did a presentation the other day why it appears that there was more outrage expressed over the cat shot with an arrow than the level of interpersonal violence in our community.  Hmmm.   Interesting question.

As you hear the claim that the Super Bowl is the largest human trafficking event in the country, it is also important to know that human trafficking is not just young girls being trafficked for sex. Not only are boys and men sold for sex, but labor trafficking is an equally egregious issue.  Human trafficking includes both.  Part of the reason that this is so widely believed is that many well-intentioned yet misinformed people try to help by spreading the word in social and print media.  Unfortunately, this often leads to perpetuating bad data, unproven claims and harmful stereotypes about trafficking and sex workers, without even knowing they’re doing so. Bad information is repeated instead of questioned.   The bottom line here is that there is no hard data to prove that human trafficking increases around large sporting events.  Like domestic and sexual violence, it occurs every day of the year.  And it occurs in our community.

I wonder about our collective priorities when a company will spend $4.5 million on a 30 second giggle not-for-profits are constantly worrying about the increase in need and the decrease in dollars. I think about all of the good that S.A.F.E. Place could do for our community if the agency had the dollars that are spent on just one second of that Super Bowl commercial.  That is a sobering thought.  One that I will try to remember as I tune in to the game this Sunday night.  

Take Action: 
  • To learn more about domestic violence and human trafficking or make a contribution visit S.A.F.E. Place, a multi-county domestic violence service organization.
  • Attend a human trafficking conference.  If you are in Michigan, check out Break The Silence: Slavery is Not Dead.

Jennifer Fopma, LMSW, is the Executive Director of S.A.F.E. Place.  Read this and other columns by her in the Battle Creek Enquirer.