When sports fans descend on New Orleans this weekend, they will encounter not just the city’s legendary hospitality, but very possibly opportunities to buy sex as well. If they do so, those men—johns, as they are often called—may well be unwittingly supporting the sexual slavery of both adults and minors.
The reasons for this are twofold. First, official reports indicate that there is an uptick in the sex trade in association with major sports events like the Super Bowl. Although it can be difficult to get reliable numbers, data from recent Super Bowls paint a grim picture. After the 2009 Super Bowl in Miami, the Florida Department of Children and Families reported more than twenty children identified as sex trafficking victims in conjunction with the big game. Authorities arrested two men for advertising one minor on Craigslist.
Available arrest numbers may well underreport the scope of the problem, however. Efforts to educate law enforcement and other officials about human and sex trafficking are still nascent in some communities. Authorities may also be unaware of laws related to human trafficking, such as the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000.
In states like Louisiana, trafficking laws are even newer, which increases the likelihood of ignorance about these protections. A 2008 report on domestic minor sex trafficking in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans region showed widespread ignorance of the state’s 2005 trafficking law. Even officials aware of the law likely had little to no experience applying it in investigations, arrests or court cases.
Though the situation may have improved slightly since then, the state’s vulnerability in this area is of sufficient concern to the FBI that Louisiana has had its own federally supported human trafficking task force since 2006. A 2011 FBI bulletin on sex trafficking noted the state’s strategic location, given the “I-10 corridor” from Texas to Mississippi.
Ongoing instability due to Hurricane Katrina only made things worse—increasing both the population of displaced people (who are more vulnerable to being trafficked; most of the children the Florida agency identified were runaways) and the financial needs that might prompt parents to sell their children to traffickers.
It’s a grim situation to be sure. For most of us living outside New Orleans, it may seem that there’s little we can do besides shaking our heads. But I would like to suggest one small but powerful thing each one of us can do: pray for the johns, the pimps, and others involved in sexual exploitation, that they would turn from their ways and change.
Certainly we would do well to pray for and help the victims, too—and many organizations have mounted good and noble efforts to help those coming out of trafficking. These efforts are important and the work must continue.
However, the men and women perpetrating these evil acts deserve our concern as well. What they do is not just a great sin against their victims, it is also a failure to do whatever good things God may have in mind for them to do. Yet God never considers one of his children too far gone to redeem.
That’s why I’m organizing Pray for the Johns Day on Super Bowl Sunday this year, to encourage people around the country—and the world, if our brothers and sisters abroad would join us—to pray for repentance and transformation in the perpetrators of sexual exploitation.
There are two key ways to participate. Churches and faith communities can pray during corporate worship that morning. (As an aid, I’ve created a sample prayer for congregations to use, which includes confession for that community’s own sexual brokenness and sin.)
Individuals and small groups can also pray before, during, or after the game. I’m particularly encouraging people to pray during the game, however, by using a few natural breaks in the game to step away and briefly pray. The during-game prayer guide provides twenty short prompts people can use, plus a few tips for party hosts.
Pray for the Johns Day is by no means a sufficient response to human and especially sex trafficking, but who knows what God could and will do when we start asking him to redeem the perpetrators’ lives and turn them away from evil toward good? I think it’s something we must do as part of the generation’s response to modern-day slavery.
Learn more about Pray for the Johns Day at www.prayforthejohns.org.
Anna Broadway is a writer based near San Francisco.
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