Image Credit to UNICEF

Image Credit to UNICEF

By Emily Pasnak-Lapchick

March 11, 2016

From March 14-17th, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s Shut Out Trafficking program is coming to campus, to raise awareness of human trafficking and sports amongst student and staff alike. Emily Pasnak-Lapchick, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, writes of the intersections between sports and human trafficking.

Large global sporting events have the ability to connect people across cultures.  They also create powerful opportunities to highlight the impact sports can have on children’s lives.  UNICEF strongly believes in the power of sport as a tool to bring people together, enhance child development, increase self-esteem, develop leadership skills, maintain healthy lifestyles, and foster conflict resolution skills.  All of these are crucial for supporting children who have been abused, exploited, or trafficked.

With the incredible amount of attention that both national and international sporting events receive, UNICEF and other organizations recognize the need to harness that energy to bring attention to issues like human trafficking.  Since the 2006 World Cup, UNICEF, alongside governments, civil society partners, and NGOs, has worked to raise awareness of, and prevent, child trafficking at major sporting events.  UNICEF also works to strengthen child protection systems in place leading up to these events.  The organization’s approach has been to work holistically with partners and to work with various channels and platforms, such as social media, to engage the general public and key partners in this effort.

Globally, the International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people are victims of human trafficking and forced labor around the world today.  Approximately 5.5 million of those are children.  Human trafficking occurs in virtually every country around the world, including the United States.  In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 514 calls from Pennsylvania alone, leading to 106 confirmed cases.  Statistics collected from the hotline reveal that sex trafficking is reported most often in commercial-front and residential brothels, online ads, as well as hotels and motels.  Labor trafficking was most often reported in domestic work, agriculture, and restaurants.  Twenty-three percent of the victims identified were children, and 68% were US citizens.

Large sporting events provide an opportunity to reach large audiences about this global issue. Leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, UNICEF worked with the Government of South Africa, child protection authorities, the private sector and civil society to launch a national advocacy campaign, Give a Red Card to Child Abuse and Exploitation.  The campaign aimed to educate tourists, citizens, and at-risk youth about exploitation and the dangers of trafficking.  It also made resources available to help those affected.  Using the symbol of the red card, which is given to football players who violate the rules of the game, the campaign called for an end to child trafficking, exploitation and abuse.  MXit, an instant messaging and social media platform for youth with over 20 million users at the time, was a partner in this effort.  MXit offered a “Red Card contact”, which shared information about trafficking and exploitation, tips on staying safe, and key contact information to report abuse or seek help.  Users were also offered UNICEF and Red Card “wallpapers” for their phones to demonstrate support.

In addition to spreading the campaign messages far and wide, UNICEF established child-friendly spaces at the four FIFA Fan Fests, events expected to attract between 10-40,000 people each day to watch the games on big screen TVs.  These child-friendly spaces provided opportunities for kids to learn, play, and stay safe if they were lost.  Parents were offered the option to use wristbands to tag their children and themselves to help reunite children with their families if they became separated.  In addition UNICEF supported training for social workers throughout the country to understand how to intervene in situations of exploitation.  This training was not only crucial for the duration of the World Cup, but was a sustainable measure that will impact children’s lives for years to come in South Africa.

Similar efforts have been conducted in the United States leading up to large-scale national sporting events, in which law enforcement officials, social workers, and representatives from the tourism industry have been trained to identify human trafficking and respond in a victim-centered way.  In 2014 the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, along with partners including the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons, brought GIFT Box to the United States to leverage attention around major sporting events.  GIFT Box is an interactive, walk-in piece of public art that was launched by UN GIFT and Stop the Traffik during the 2012 Olympics in the UK to raise awareness about human trafficking.  For two weeks, 85 trained volunteers tabled in Union Square educating New Yorkers, tourists, and youth about the dangers of human trafficking and how they could take action.  Volunteers garnered over 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for global leaders to prioritize the issue.

There are many intersections between sports and trafficking, but through sport there is a great opportunity to create social change.  In 2014, the End Trafficking project at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS) partnered to create Shut Out Trafficking, to leverage resources and raise awareness about human trafficking in the United States.  The partnership launched by engaging 10 campus communities during the 2014-2015 pilot year, reached nearly 20,000 students.  Within each academic year, we implement programming designed to involve and support athletes, coaches, athletics administrators, and members of the general student body to raise awareness about human trafficking, both globally and on a domestic level.  Our goal is to empower campus communities to speak out honestly and take action against these abuses.  We hope you’ll join us as we bring the Shut Out Trafficking program to Villanova from March 14th-17th, 2016.


Editor’s Note: 

Villanova Athletics is set to host a “Shut Out Trafficking” (SOT) week of advocacy, in conjunction with the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS) and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s End Trafficking Program, on campus at Villanova University during the week of March 14, 2016. This week of advocacy will bring together the entire campus community and will highlight the human rights issue of human trafficking. Villanova Athletics will partner with the following campus centers, in a cross-curricular coalition to bring awareness and educational programming to our students, staff and faculty: Villanova University’s Center for Peace and Justice Education, Villanova University’s Charles Widger Law School Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation and The Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law.

 Villanova Athletics is one of eight member schools of the NCAS who have hosted or will be hosting SOT Weeks on their campuses during the 2015-16 academic year. Villanova Athletics has been a member institution of the NCAS since 2000.  For more information, please contact: Allison Venella, Director of Student-Athlete Development.



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