Bay Ridge

Fontbonne Hall students fight sex trafficking

Campaign seeks to raise awareness of ‘human bondage'

January 9, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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There’s a dark side to the Super Bowl that no one likes to talk about.

Each year, thousands of young women are brought into the city where the Super Bowl is played and are forced to perform sex acts on men who spend three days getting drunk and partying prior to the big game, according to students at Fontbonne Hall Academy in Bay Ridge, who cited research they conducted into the issue of human trafficking.

The students said their research, which included looking at websites and reading books and articles on the topic, showed that the victims are often immigrants who arrived in the U.S. with no money and fell into the hands of unscrupulous men who promised to get them legitimate jobs but instead forced them into lives of prostitution.

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“The Super Bowl accounts for the single largest number of human trafficking incidents in the United States. In Miami at the Super Bowl three years ago, 10,000 women were brought in,” Fontbonne Hall student Mary Wrynn told an audience during a presentation at the school on Jan. 7.

Part of the reason for the spike in human trafficking at Super Bowl time is the fact that the game draws hundreds of thousands of people to the host city. “It’s one big party. People can move around more easily,” Wrynn said. Because of the sea of humanity, the chances of getting caught are almost non-existent, she said.

With Super Bowl XLVIII coming up next month at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, students at Fontbonne Hall, the Catholic high school for girls at 9901 Shore Road, said they are seeking to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage people to help the victims. The presentation, which took place in the school gym, was a part of that campaign to raise awareness. Using slideshows, photos, and graphs, the students presented a dizzying array of facts and figures about human trafficking.

To help make their point, the students commissioned T-shirts with the slogan “Not For Sale” and wore them that day.

Human trafficking is a $32 billion a year industry in the U.S., second only to drug trafficking, according to the Blue Campaign, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security program aimed at educating the public about the crime. Human trafficking is defined on the agency’s website as the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of exploitation or commercial gain.

Victims, who are often in the country illegally and do not speak English, are reluctant to seek help from authorities for fear of retribution from the people exploiting them, or fear of being deporting, experts said.

There could very well be human trafficking victims living in Brooklyn, the Fontbonne students said. “It’s happening right here, right under our noses,” one student said.

In addition to providing sex for inebriated Super Bowl fans, victims are often forced to work in massage parlors, in strip clubs and for escort services.

But students said their extensive research showed that it’s not just about sex and the victims of human trafficking aren’t always female. Victims are also forced to work on farms, in factories, at construction sites, in restaurants and bars, and as housekeepers, nannies and cooks in private homes.

Over 20 percent of the calls that come into victim assistance hotlines like the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 are non-sexual related, Wrynn said.

How can residents help victims?

Students urged people to be aware of their surroundings when they visit restaurants, nail salons, and other everyday places. Be on the lookout for anyone who appears to be fearful of talking to strangers, or appears to be dominated by an employer to a menacing degree. Report any suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center either by calling the hotline, which is open 24-hours a day, or by texting “BeFree” to 233733.

Victims’ right groups plan to distribute informational fliers in New York and New Jersey bars at Super Bowl time.

Fontbonne Principal Mary Ann Spicijaric, who was wearing the “Not For Sale” T-shirt, said the students’ initiative impressed her. “This is an event that was completely generated by students,” she said, speaking about the presentation. Teachers assisted the students when they could, but the educational event was student-run, she said.

Spicijaric said the girls were inspired to look into human trafficking by the Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Joseph (CSJ), the religious order of nuns which sponsors Fontbonne Hall Academy and five other high schools in the continental US and Puerto Rico. “The sisters have done a lot to raise awareness and to help victims. The students decided to use that a starting point and do their own research,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The event was organized by students in the school’s CSJ Club. Ugonna Nwabueze is the club president.

Sister Helen Herley, CSJ, who attended the informative presentation, said she thought the students did a good job. “They brought out a lot of issues people might not have been aware of,” she told the Eagle.

The sisters work to help human trafficking victims “because it’s part of our mission to provide help to those in need,” she said.



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