[The Star-Ledger] We’ve had years to plan for New Jersey’s Super Bowl, which will be played in the Meadowlands a week from today. The Meadowlands sit squarely in the heart of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, comprising more than 100 congregations in the northern third of the state — and like everyone else in the area, we have been preparing for months.
Some people who live near MetLife Stadium have been surprised by the astronomical offers to rent their homes for the 10 days surrounding the big game. Law enforcement throughout northern New Jersey doesn’t want to be surprised by any public safety challenges, so extraordinary security measures have been put in place. And as braced as we are for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people, most of us will probably be surprised by clogged roadways and packed restaurants.
The biggest surprise, for me, was learning that the Super Bowl has historically been a magnet for a highly developed underground economy: human trafficking. I hadn’t known that. And I have to confess that, deep down, I do not want to know about the extent of this human evil, and how it will be present, in a big way, in New Jersey’s backyard during these next few weeks.
In 2010, when the Super Bowl was held in Miami, some 10,000 girls, teenagers and young women were victimized by trafficking. They were lured or tricked into a relationship — then forced into sexual exploitation — and were not free to leave.
The practice continues. Millions of dollars will go into the pockets of modern-day slave traders — just for this Super Bowl. The State Department estimates that human traffickers earn $10 billion annually in the United States alone.
That the Super Bowl is a magnet for human trafficking is no surprise to Gov. Chris Christie. As a former prosecutor, he is well versed in this illegal network and underground economy. In a meeting with me and other state religious leaders in early December, he said there is more human slavery in the world today than at any other time in human history. He told us he has been in communication with leaders in Phoenix, where next year’s Super Bowl will be held, to brief them on what New Jersey is learning about this pernicious phenomenon of human slavery.
The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking has been at work for months to minimize the surprise of human trafficking, by educating the public on a reality that could reach into every North Jersey community.
Most of us won't see this evil. But we can provide an opportunity for some in slavery to escape to freedom.
They have trained hundreds of volunteers to place soap, inscribed with emergency phone numbers that offer opportunities for escape, in hotel bathrooms and are alerting hotel staff to the possibility of trafficking in their establishment — and what they might do to respond.
Local police have been partnering with the coalition and with religious communities to shine a light on this life-denying darkness. Many congregations in our diocese have been involved in the training, and our annual diocesan convention this weekend is featuring workshops and presentations on human trafficking.
The Super Bowl will bring more glitz and glamour than perhaps any other event New Jersey has ever hosted. And, as Super Bowl history has demonstrated, it will bring more suffering and darkness — in the form of human slavery — than we can possibly measure.
Most of us won’t see this evil. Most of us won’t know if it is happening in Newark or Nutley, Ho-Ho-Kus or Hackensack, or places in between. Any witness we can make, any awareness we can gather and any light we can shine has the potential to shut down some traffickers — and may provide an opportunity for some in slavery to escape to freedom.
Enjoy the game, but stay conscious of the needs of vulnerable people.
The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, which comprises more than 100 congregations in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren and Union counties.