“Kidnappings happen,” Martin said. “But there are gray areas where kids are lured with false promises.”
Said McCain: “Calling children prostitutes grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard.”
A brand challenge
Even when a business is on the right side of the issue, associating your brand with the term sex trafficking is disconcerting, said Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of the Minneapolis-based Carlson hotel chain.
“I think there is a reluctance when people are unaware of the scale of the problem,” she said.
The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million children are involved in the global sex trade. The average age of a sex trafficked child in the United States is 13 to 14 years old according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The U.S. Justice Department looked at human trafficking incidents in the U.S. from 2008 to 2010 and found that 40 percent involved child prostitution or child sexual exploitation.
Carlson took her company out on a professional limb in 2004, when she signed a pledge with an international group aimed at ending child prostitution, pornography and trafficking of children, and began educating Carlson employees to recognize and report suspected sex trafficking.
The travel industry considers itself “in the happiness business,” Nelson said. “Stepping out on this was not comfortable.”
Nelson initially could not find others in the travel industry to sign on to the effort. Nor could her employees get law enforcement to respond with urgency.
One of McCain’s emphases in Arizona is educating first responders, as well as the public.
She and Klobuchar think they have made a good case to the NFL that it eventually needs to take action. Nelson said time will help. After years of effort, she said, she finally enlisted Hilton, Hyatt and Delta Air Lines in the sex trafficking fight.
The NFL “could be leaders” in that fight and realize a “kind of halo effect,” Nelson said. “People in the sporting industry are heroes to young people.”
Klobuchar has not yet asked the NFL to do public service announcements to discourage sex trafficking.
“One thing at a time,” she said. “We had a positive first meeting. We are going to talk again after the Super Bowl and give them an update on what we’re doing with our legislation and go from there.”
Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123