Perhaps you’re wondering what the genesis of my problem is with Charles Pugh, current Detroit City Council president and former numbskull TV reporter in Fort Wayne. Reader, I’ll tell you.
Back in the 1990s-ish day, Pugh did a story on the well-known link between the Super Bowl and domestic violence. You remember that? Rising testosterone combined with cabin fever and erratic blood-sugar levels caused by weird snack foods and brought male tempers to a boil, and they bounced their wives all over hell ‘n’ gone. For a couple of years, this was an established fact that all the lifestyle sections and (especially) TV stations liked to make a fuss over around the end of January.
Only guess what? It wasn’t true.
An enterprising Washington Post reporter asked to see the data, and it turned out the whole contention was based on one study, and the authors of the study said the data had been misreported and twisted by people with an ax to grind. You can read the whole story at Snopes, if you’re so inclined.
Anyway, at least two years after this, after it had been discussed and put through the usual journalistic mea-culpa wringers, Pugh did a story for his station about how domestic-violence shelters are flooded with black-eyed women on Super Bowl Sunday. I think even his sources knew it was b.s., but hey — publicity! And so the one woman who appeared on camera was careful to say she noticed an uptick in services “during football season,” which also covers a lot of other stressors, including the start of school, cold weather, the holidays, and well, you get the idea. I wrote a note to the news director and Pugh himself, asking for an explanation, and discovered what it feels like to shout down a well. Neither responded. What is TV, anyway? Just a few moments in time that no one even gives their full attention to. La-di-da.
So last night I’m doing one of my jobs, gleaning the fields for stories about health care, and what do I turn up but this:
When fans flock to the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, few will be thinking about anything other than touchdowns and tailgates.
But nearby, in hotels, motels and on street corners, Texas authorities say a “dark side” will exist, one where children are sold for sex by pimps. And those sex traffickers are descending on the area.
“People are thinking of the Packers and the Steelers and the game on the field, having a good time and Super Bowl commercials. Most don’t think about a 12-year-old being forced to dance naked,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told ABC News.
ATLANTA — Pimps will traffic thousands of under-age prostitutes to Texas for Sunday’s Super Bowl, hoping to do business with men arriving for the big game with money to burn, child rights advocates said.
While football fans are eagerly anticipating the Feb. 6 Super Bowl showdown in Dallas, some state officials are gearing up for the big game’s dark side: the surge in human trafficking that tends to accompany major sports and entertainment events. “What we’ve learned is that sexual trafficking, sexual exploitation of children in particular, is all about supply and demand,” says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. With more than 100,000 fans descending on Dallas, that demand is going to be great. There is a “looming potential explosion of human trafficking around the Super Bowl,” says Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is expecting hundreds of girls and women to be brought to the area.
The second story, from Reuters, is instructive. I’m going to do something I don’t normally do — quote more than three paragraphs or so, just so we can go through it and see if we can spot all the weasel words and agenda-laden sources. This entire story rests on two rickety legs, “child rights advocates” and the Texas attorney general. Ahem:
As the country’s largest sporting event, the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers will make the Dallas-Fort Worth area a magnet for business of all kinds.
That includes the multimillion dollar, under-age sex industry, said activists and law enforcement officials working to combat what they say is an annual spike in trafficking of under-age girls ahead of the Super Bowl.
“The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told a trafficking prevention meeting in January.
Wow, really? Tell me more:
Girls who enter the grim trade face a life of harsh treatment and danger, according to a Dallas police report in 2010. Few who emerge are willing to speak about it. Tina Frundt, 36, is an exception.
Now married and living in Washington D.C., Frundt was lured into sex work at 14 after she fell for a 24-year-old who invited her to leave home in 1989 and join his “family” in Cleveland, Ohio.
That family consisted of the man and three girls living in a motel. When Frundt declined on the first night to have sex with her boyfriend’s friends they raped her.
“I was angry with myself for not listening to him, so the next night when he sent me out on the street and told me … (to earn $500) I listened,” she said in a telephone interview.
Frundt paced the streets for hours and finally got into a client’s car.
When she came home in the morning with just $50, her pimp beat her in front of the other girls to teach them all a lesson and sent her back onto the street the next night with the warning not to return until she had reached the quota.
The scenario was repeated night after night as Frundt’s pimp moved his stable across the Midwest. Any sign of rebellion led to further beatings. Escape seemed out of the question.
“I was a teen-ager in a strange town with no money and no place to go,” she said. She finally escaped by getting arrested.
Frundt’s story is terrible, for sure. Notice it has nothing to do with the Super Bowl.
There’s some more stuff about how awful a teen prostitute’s life is, and then we’re back to the news peg:
“At previous Super Bowls, pimps hired cab drivers to turn their vehicles into mobile brothels,” said Deena Graves, executive director of child advocacy group Traffick911.
Up to 10,000 adult and under-age girls have come to previous Super Bowls, said Jerry Strickland, communications director in the Texas attorney general’s office, who acknowledged that precise figures are hard to gauge.
“The statistics are a moving target. They (under age sex workers) can’t be counted in turnstiles like ticket holders,” he said in an interview.
Can you give us a specific, Deena Graves? One arrest made in one of these moving brothels? One cab driver who took the cash to turn his rear-view mirror up? At least Jerry Strickland seems to know he’s carrying his boss’ water. Note the “up to 10,000 adult and underage girls,” which is sort of amusing. When Detroit hosted the Super Bowl five years ago, there were public and private parties galore, and you have to figure at least some working girls were there; I know I was told high-end strippers were happy to come and work as Jenna Jameson’s lingerie models at the party she threw. But “up to” is a wonderfully elastic term, and by saying that number includes adults, well, you’ve sort of muddied your own story. Anyway, it’s not like they can be counted with turnstiles! Onward:
Law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups rescued around 50 girls during the previous two Super Bowls, said Graves. Six were registered on the Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. One had been trafficked from Hawaii.
“Even one rescue is considered a success,” said Frundt who now advocates for exploited girls and has founded a girls’ treatment center and a safe house for girls in Washington D.C.
Finally, a link between the game and the crime. Too bad it’s vague and utterly unverifiable. “Around 50” during two previous games? Was that 25 per game, or 50 each year? How many were rescued by law enforcement, and how many by those convenient advocacy groups? Six were registered, only we can’t tell you who they are, alas, as sex-crime victims.
Finally, the feel-good ending:
To fight the trade, authorities, child welfare advocates and the airline industry are collaborating.
Representatives from American Airlines, Delta, United, Quantas and American Eagle are holding a training session to help them spot signs of trafficking. Nancy Rivard, president of Airline Ambassadors International, will also work with another 100 flight crews to distribute materials on flights.
Some 67,000 people signed a petition on www.change.org opposing sex trafficking as part of a campaign by Traffick911 called “I’m Not Buying It!” that is supported by 60 nonprofits and faith-based groups.
That campaign has also attracted heavy hitters like Dallas Cowboy Jay Ratliff, a three-time Pro Bowler, who made a public service announcement entitled “Real men don’t buy children. They don’t buy sex.”
Ratliff, who himself has two daughters, is recruiting other National Football League players for the campaign.
“You hear of sex trafficking overseas,” he wrote in an email from Hawaii where he is playing in the Pro Bowl. “But you never imagine it is happening in the United States.”
Training will happen. A petition has happened. A PSA has happened. And the Texas AG will be on the alert.
Please note that I am not questioning whether trafficking in underage prostitutes happens. We know it does. I am questioning whether it has any connection whatsoever with the Super Bowl. Why not the U.S. Open, or the Olympics, or the All-Star Game? Those events all bring large numbers of out-of-towners into a strange city to watch sports; are they less likely to get their freak on with a 16-year-old captive? What is it about the national pro football championship game that tempts so many to hitch a ride on its coattails? Is it something about the violence on the field, or the ridiculous, dead-of-winter, what-else-is-there-to-write-about hype that covers everything from advertising to the food pages (super dip ideas for your super spread!) that makes those left out want to latch on to the media gravy train?
I don’t mind a story on how to make a cheese ball in the shape of a football. But this sort of thing pisses me off. We’ve been burned once by this sort of piggybacking. If I were the NFL, I’d be throwing flags all over the place.
Speaking of which, this was also a health story last night:
Suffering an emotional loss in the Super Bowl may be hazardous to a fan’s heart health, a new study suggests.
Oh, bollocks it is.
Little Miss Grumpy, sitting here waiting for her snowstorm. Pantry is stocked, snowblower is gassed, bets are laid. Kate’s taking 12 inches, I’m going for eight, even though we’re in the purple band (forecast of 12+ inches) on the maps. We both think there’ll be a school cancellation. She still has to do her homework. Because I hope she’ll get good grades and grow up to be something other than a credulous journalist.
So I’m waiting for Snotorious BIG. Photos tomorrow, I hope. Have a good one, all.