Students from Jefferson Township High School created a series of videos highlighting the prostitution and sex slave industry associated with the Super Bowl. (Courtesy of Jenn Krakowski)
By Peggy McGlone for The Star-Ledger on January 26, 2014—
“They consider themselves modern day abolitionists, focused on human trafficking, prostitution and the sexual exploitation of teenagers around the world. And they are in overdrive this month as the Super Bowl comes to town.
Jefferson Township High School students, who established a nonprofit organization to address this human rights issue, have launched a video campaign in advance of Super Bowl XLVIII next Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Their three public service announcements are starkly simple, with fresh-faced students sharing shocking statistics about prostitution in general and its connection to America’s biggest sporting event.
Each video ends with a student taking a stand: “We will not stand by as human trafficking invades our state. We must take a stand against the crime and declare: Not now, not ever, not on our turf.”
“It was estimated that there were 10,000 prostitutes brought to Dallas for the 2011 Super Bowl and there were 133 prostitution arrests in Indianapolis during the 2012 Super Bowl,” junior Nathaniel Hirschman said. “When we saw this correlation, it was natural to try to tackle it while it’s in our backyard.”
Human trafficking is in the spotlight this month. President Obama proclaimed January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the federal education department is working with the Polaris Project to educate students about the billion-dollar industry.
The students at Jefferson have been advocating on behalf of their fellow teens for three years, since history teacher Dan Papa first opened their eyes to the issue. The organization now has 60 members in the high school, and another 25 from the district middle school.
The message has resonated with their peers around the state.
“The average age of entrance into the commercial sex trade is 14,” Hirschman said. “We are educating people about it who are the same age as those affected by it.”
The club — named Project Stay Gold, a nod to the young adult classic “The Outsiders” — has given presentations in Morris County high schools, and held two human trafficking summits for metro-area students. The event at Caldwell College last fall attracted 350 students from the area. The next one is planned for the spring, possibly in Montclair.
“We’re hoping to start a conversation,” Papa said. “To awaken as many people, to bring as much attention.”
The students created the concept, wrote the scripts and appear in the videos, which were filmed by Papa’s friend Peter Nevil.
This summer, the group met then-Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-N.J.) in Washington, D.C.
“He spoke about human trafficking on the Senate floor, and he mentioned our project,” Hirschman said.
They hope Chiesa’s friendship with Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain will help them continue their Super Bowl focus by allowing them to hand off their work to Arizona schools.
“We’re hoping to take what we’ve done on our website, and at our school, and we’re hoping to make a connection, so that every state the Super Bowl comes to can have a program that schools can adopt,” Papa said.
Growth is slow but steady, Papa said. A Jefferson student who graduated has started a club at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. Some high schools have expressed interest in formally launching their own clubs, while others, including Hanover Park, incorporate Project Stay Gold’s message into their student human rights organizations.
“I view my students as history-makers and world-changers,” Papa said. “The work the kids have done is pretty amazing.””
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