TRENTON When New Jersey hosts the Super Bowl in February, the football championship won't be so super for one group of people - victims of human trafficking.
That's why about 200 people who work with victims gathered in Trenton on Friday to talk about how to prevent trafficking and identify and help victims.
Human trafficking is gaining attention in Pennsylvania, as well. Also on Friday, U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.), sent a letter to the chairman of a Senate committee that is considering a bill to assist the fight against human trafficking.
Casey asked U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) to take up the issue of child sex trafficking and help move the legislation Casey is cosponsoring to a vote on the Senate floor.
In New Jersey, the state Attorney General's Office sponsored Friday's daylong series of panels and workshops at the War Memorial. Social workers, lawyers, government and law enforcement officials, and representatives from schools and nonprofit organizations attended.
It was one of a series of events in New Jersey that began in June and will continue through January, within days of the Super Bowl, set to be played Feb. 2 at the Meadowlands sports complex.
Big events such as the Super Bowl, with the tens of thousands of visitors they bring, are magnets for the sex trade, as traffickers send mainly women and girls to work near the venues.
The problem is huge. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline reported 20,652 calls nationwide last year, many of them tips or crisis calls from victims or those who suspect trafficking, including 461 from Pennsylvania and 330 from New Jersey.
As horrible as sex trafficking is, the Super Bowl can have a positive effect for those fighting it, the speakers said.
"I'm glad the Super Bowl is going to give us an opportunity to highlight the work we're doing, and it's going to give us an opportunity to bring more attention to the issue of human slavery," said U.S. Sen. Jeffrey S. Chiesa (R., N.J.).
As state attorney general, Chiesa focused on human trafficking. In June, Gov. Christie appointed Chiesa to temporarily fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
"What I don't want to happen is that the Super Bowl leaves and we all think our job is done, because we all know that's not the way the criminals would think," Chiesa said.
Two trafficking survivors provided the summit's most dramatic moments.
Barbara Amaya, 56, said she was about 12 when she ran away to Washington after suffering years of abuse at her family's five-bedroom home in Fairfax, Va. A trafficker spotted her at Dupont Circle and took her back to her apartment. The woman and a man then sold Amaya to another trafficker, who took her to New York.
"I grew up on the streets of New York being trafficked," Amaya said. "I was raped more times than I can remember."
Shandra Woworuntu, 37, described how she had lived with her well-off family in Indonesia and was working in a bank when she legally traveled to the United States, thinking she had landed a legitimate job as a waitress in Chicago.
She said she flew to New York City "with a lot of hope that the United States is a dream land." Instead, she was forced into the sex trade.
She, like Amaya, now advocates for human-trafficking survivors.
State Assistant Attorney General Tracy M. Thompson said New Jersey had been conducting training sessions and awareness events around the state to teach people who may come into contact with trafficking victims - including police, taxi drivers, and hotel workers - how to identify the crime.
Two weeks before the Super Bowl, the Attorney General's Office will hold assemblies around the state to educate the public about identifying and staying away from human trafficking.
In Washington, Casey is cosponsoring the Domestic Child Sex Trafficking Prevention and Response Act, which was introduced in June and which would "better enable state child welfare agencies to prevent sex trafficking of children and serve the needs of children who are victims of sex trafficking," according to a summary of the bill.
The bill is in the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee that Harkin chairs. Casey is a member of that panel.
In his letter to Harkin, Casey said the legislation would help trafficked children by addressing "the gaps in our knowledge about the number of children who are trafficked each year by improving data collection, ensure that children who are sexually exploited are treated as victims of child abuse . . . and require law enforcement to notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children when a child goes missing from the welfare system."
Casey said in an interview Thursday he would like to see more progress in strengthening state laws in Pennsylvania, too.