By FRED GRIMM
Only one story, amid an orgy of overwrought media coverage during South Florida’s Super Bowl week, stopped me cold.
Other reports cataloged the influx of celebrities and high rollers; the effect so many big spenders had on stores, restaurants, luxury hotels; the lucre NFL bacchants injected into the local economy.
The Miami Herald’s Jennifer Lebovich and Carol Marbin Miller reported a less glorious aspect of Super Bowl economics — hundreds of teenage hookers shipped here to service the party-boy frenzy.
Their story seemed all the more jolting, juxtaposed against reports out of the Haitian disaster about children stolen away from orphanages and survivor camps by child traffickers. You wonder how the hell “those” people could allow such a thing. But moral condescension collides with the news that pimps trucked maybe a thousand teenage sex workers into South Florida for our big party.
MORAL HIGH GROUNDIf there’s a moral high ground in the human trafficking story, it’s nowhere near Miami.
I was shocked. Wendi Adelson, director of the Human Rights and Immigration Law Project at Florida State University, was shocked by my naiveté.
Adelson — a former staff attorney with the University of Miami School of Law’s Children and Youth Law Clinic — said her FSU project has been nearly consumed with the problems of trafficking and teen prostitution.
“If you’re shocked by this, we haven’t done enough to raise awareness,” she said.
Part of the problem trying to rouse public attention comes from the elusiveness of hard numbers, trying to calculate how many kids have been pulled into the sex trade.
“I’ve seen all sorts of numbers, from 15,000 to 75,000,” Adelson said. “But I just don’t believe them.”
MERE ESTIMATESDrive along one of the more decrepit commercial strips in Broward or Miami-Dade. Count the young hookers working the sidewalks. Multiply by other streets. Other cities. But getting beyond estimates is tough. Young victims tend to be uncooperative, cowering in complex, psychologically dependent relationships with the pimps who exploit them.
Trudy Novicki, director of Kristi House (www.kristihouse.org), reported that the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, on Feb. 5 and 6, during the height of our Super Bowl saturnalia, pulled six girls off the streets, snatched another five away from pimp recruiters and provided police with information on nine traffickers.
AMERICAN RUNAWAYSNovicki said a number of Miami’s juvenile prostitutes have been smuggled in from South America but are American runaways.
“Kids running away from something. Often abuse,” she said.
They don’t particularly want to be sent home. Don’t open up to strangers. Don’t trust cops. They make for perfect victims in the sex trade.
And the Super Bowl, a frenzied cocktail of testosterone and extravagance, offers traffickers an extraordinary marketing opportunity.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist for some pimp in Detroit to know he can drive girls to a hotel room in Miami and make money,” Novicki said.
You might have hoped that the community’s refined sense of morality separates South Florida from Third World nations unable to stop the sexual exploitation of children.
Apparently, during Super Bowl week, South Florida’s moral high ground becomes a low hill to climb.