Courts & Crime

Volunteers fight dark side of Super Bowl: child prostitution

Two dozen volunteers from around the country gathered inside a Miami conference room earlier this week to prepare for the Super Bowl.

They're not here for the game, though, but to spend several days fanning out through the city to rescue underage girls who have been trafficked to South Florida as sex workers.

"The Super Bowl is obviously a really big deal for prostitution," Sandy Skelaney, a program manager at Kristi House, a program for sexually abused children, told the group. "We have a bunch of girls being brought down by pimps."

Just as police, hoteliers, restaurateurs and retailers have prepared for the big game, so too have children's advocates. For weeks, volunteers have printed fliers, prepared scripts and organized outreach teams in an effort to identify — and, with luck — rescue girls who are being forced into prostitution.

Last year, when the Super Bowl was held in Tampa, the Florida Department of Children & Families took in 24 children who were brought to the city to serve as sex workers, said Regina Bernadin, DCF's statewide human-trafficking coordinator.

"Miami is known as a destination city for human trafficking, and sporting events are generally recognized by the experts as magnets for prostitution," said Trudy Novicki, who heads Kristi House.

Under normal circumstances, Florida — and Miami in particular — draws more than its share of underaged sex workers, authorities say, lured by large numbers of transient men, the glitz of South Beach and a steady stream of conventions.

The testosterone-fueled Super Bowl is expected to generate as much traffic for prostitutes as it does for bartenders and bookies.

And though the girls who have made camp on South Beach and Downtown Miami may seem to be there voluntarily, authorities say, they almost certainly are former runaways or foster kids who fell prey to human trafficking. Some are barely out of puberty.

Ernie Allen, who heads the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said girls typically enter prostitution at age 11 or 12.

"This is truly an example of supply and demand," said Allen. "They use these kids as commodities for sale or trade, and go to where demand is the greatest, and where they can make the most money. That's why they follow events like the Super Bowl."

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