New Orleans has a reputation as a city that never refuses a party. Indeed, it boasts one of the longest (and longest running) celebrations of anywhere in the world: Carnival, a week long festival of food, music, pageantry, and masks culminating in Mardi Gras.
Leading up to Mardi Gras, the city celebrates with 12 days of parades. New Orleans will also be hosting the Super Bowl on February 3rd. The overlap of the two events is being hailed as “Super Gras,” and half a million tourists are expected to flood the city. With a spike in tourism during an already raucous holiday, there is reason to suspect that trafficking will increase.
The official colors of Carnival– purple, green, and gold— represent justice, faith and power, respectively. But only time will tell if these virtues prevail in the streets of New Orleans during “Super Gras,” and if justice is meted out for the powerless.
The Feast of Epiphany (January 6th) begins the party season in New Orleans. It is called Carnival, though it often gets confused with Mardi Gras which is just one day.
Oddly enough, the party is a foil for piety. Lent, a 40 day fast leading up to Easter, is celebrated in the Catholic religion. And the Tuesday before the fast is the biggest binge party ever invented: Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 12.
Almost everywhere on the official Mardi Gras website, organizers bemoan the fact that Mardi Gras has become synonymous with debauchery, drunkenness, and women flashing their breasts. And there is something to that: beginning about 10 years ago, Mardi Gras was hijacked by the “spring break” culture of young, college-aged students. Main-stream media typically confines its coverage to the balconies of Bourbon Street, tending to emphasize the revelries over other festivities. And it should be noted that none of the more than 50 parades during Carnival go through the French Quarter, where all of the seedy stuff is officially confined.
Technically, the French Quarter has nothing to do with the sanctioned Carnival celebrations of the city. But it is indicted as the center for “risque,” adult nightlife on the official website for Mardi Gras under the “Tips and Tricks” page.
Be that as it may, it’s hard to miss the undertones of license that pervade the celebrations. For example, Carnival owes much of its success to “Crewes,” exclusive and often anonymous organizations that build floats and administrate other aspects of the festival. The original crewe was organized in the mid-nineteenth century and was called the Mistik Crewe of Comus. The Comus namesake is a reference to a John Milton character, sort of a macabre patron saint of debauchery and lust. The clear inference is that Carnival is a time to let libido supersede inhibitions, and a cue to allow morality to yield to depravity.
Super Bowl XLVII
On Sunday, February 3rd, New Orleans will host Super Bowl XLVII featuring the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Held at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the Super Bowl is expected to draw tens of thousands of fans to the city.
Major sporting events tend to be hubs of trafficking activity. Though anti-trafficking organizations perennially have a difficult time proving this concept, the rationale is quite simple: Events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics dramatically increase the number of people in a city during a peak time of celebration and partying. This translates into an increased demand for prostitution, which represents an opportunity for traffickers to introduce greater numbers of prostituted women into the mix.
The good news is that, more and more, organizations and governments are starting to pay attention. In 2010, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that 10 thousand prostituted women were brought to Miami. Last year, Indianapolis passed a trafficking law in time for game day. This year, the New Orleans Police Department is working in conjunction with Louisiana State Police to fight trafficking. While they will not disclose their strategy (for obvious reasons), local news outlets have reported that trafficking is one of the top priorities during Super Gras.
Bourbon Street is at the heart of the French Quarter, and it known for strip clubs, massage parlors, and prostitution. Just a few months ago, a woman was arrested for training a 16-year old girl as an escort.
But while the city turns a blind eye to revelers on Bourbon Street, other areas of prostitution face the scrutiny of police. There are worse things in the eyes of the law than prostitution, a crime narrowly defined as purchasing vaginal sex. Everything else falls into a completely different category: Crime Against Nature.
Using an antiquated “Crime Against Nature” law, police target prostitutes who are, according to some critics, engaged in “survival sex,” living on the street the only way they know how. By soliciting sexual services other than vaginal intercourse, undercover police officers are quickly able to discover street prostitutes on major prostitution thoroughfares. “Crime Against Nature” laws are punishable by hefty fines, up to 5 years in prison, and sex-offender registry. Prostituted women are then able to plea down to prostitution, a misdemeanor charge, which is payable by a fine. But the vicious irony of the situation is that a woman convicted under these circumstances is highly likely to return to prostitution to pay the fines, where she risks being caught again which will result in greater fines accrued. In some documented cases, a woman’s first “Crime Against Nature” charge came when she was just 12-years old.
The result is systemic slavery, one where the entire justice system —yet no one in particular—becomes the pimp.
The women who do not plea down end up bearing the stigma of a “sex offender.” Critics of this law point out that labeling women in prostitution as sex offenders only ensures that they will face unnecessary hardships, while offering no benefit to area neighborhoods (sex offender laws are meant to warn people of predatory offenders). What’s more, it has been reported that over 40 percent of those listed as sex offenders in New Orleans are “Crimes Against Nature” violators, and 80 percent of those people are black women, statistics like that suggest that there is a racial dimension to what is otherwise a cruel law.
- Pray that God would shine a light on Super Gras, exposing trafficking and liberating enslaved women and children.
- Pray for strength and protection of police forces, and for their initiatives to end trafficking.
- Ask for a release of an historic revival in New Orleans.
- Pray for open doors of ministry for organizations like SpeakHope to minister to women caught in commercial sexual exploitation.