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LETTER: A warning for tourney time

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Dear editor,
March is that time of year when basketball fans come alive. Tournaments around the country draw hundreds of thousands of fans who spare no expense to support their favorite teams. The madness that concerns me is of another kind. This exciting basketball season often brings with it a spike in commercial sex trafficking, specifically, human trafficking.

Backpage.com is the Internet magnet for human trafficking, and has brought $22 million in ad revenues to its parent company, The Village Voice. Women and children are rarely seen on the street soliciting sex, instead they are on the internet, with Backpage.com providing 80 percent of all online commercial sex. Regional and Final Four NCAA tournaments will create a spike in incidents of human trafficking. Students at the University of Louisville searched trafficking ads and responses during the last regional basketball tournament and found the largest number of responses, even more than the time leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

Five women from Detroit were found dead after being placed under the “escort” section of the site. CNN reports interviewed moms who watched their young daughters being coerced by pimps to run away from home, only to be prostituted through ads on Backpage.com. Together two women claimed to have been sold for sex a combined 1,900 times when they were between the ages of 15-17.

The site has gone largely unpunished by law-enforcement for enabling criminal activity. Groups like SOAP, ECPAT, Polaris continue the work of stopping the real “Madness.” Bills on the issue of human trafficking have been introduced in the Senate, including a bill called the “Combat Human Trafficking Act,” aimed at those who engage in sex acts with victims of trafficking. The bill, introduced on Jan. 8, would ramp up law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute buyers and increase victim services.

Senator Rob Portman (Ohio), co-sponsor of the bill, called human trafficking the “human rights cause of our time.” I might add the “Madness for our time,” going beyond March Madness.

Thank you,
Sr. Judy Morris, OP
Justice Promoter for the Dominican Sisters of Peace