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The Super Bowl’s Human Trafficking Crisis and Other Notes from the Week


We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Super Bowl and Its Trafficking Problem

This weekend millions of Americans will tune into one of the biggest sporting events of the year. What they may not know is that the Super Bowl is also one of the biggest weekends for sex trafficking. The Super Bowl's dark secret has slowly caught the attention of the public and law enforcement as activists have brought the issue to light. This year, SB50 is in San Francisco, which is known as one of the top areas in the country for child sex trafficking. In response, the FBI is taking a new approach to cracking down on the industry: It is the first year the Bureau is partnering with local law enforcement to reach out to trafficked women and girls to give them a way out, hoping that they turn in their traffickers. This includes offering them food, shelter, and counseling. We applaud the efforts and hope they are successful. And if you tune into the game this weekend, don't forget what's going on behind-the scenes. —Emily Mae Schmid

Spring Is on the Way! (According to Some Furry Sources)

Even after the much-predicted “worst winter ever” turned out to be a pretty average winter, we're still as ready for spring as we are every year. Well, get out your floral prints and sunglasses: groundhogs from all over the country verified Tuesday that spring will be early this year.

First to make his prediction was Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania. He was held aloft to cheers and applause from the crowd that gathers every year with The Groundhog Club (yes, apparently, that’s a thing). Phil did not respond, just blinked. He did attempt to flee before his actions were closely analyzed. Interpreting Phil's behavior, the Groundhog Club emcee proclaimed, "There is no shadow to be cast! An early spring is my forecast!" The findings were independently verified by a groundhog in Canada, where Shubenacadie Sam also saw no shadow.

Of course, there are other 2016 groundhog findings available: Staten Island Chuck in New York and General Beau Lee in Georgia—both concur with Phil. That's enough to make up what some would call a repetition of groundhogs. (Yes, repetition is evidently the collective noun for the animals). While the validity of their predictions has yet to be seen, these furry fellows certainly win in the cutest-weather-forecaster department. —Hannah Allen

News About Adnan Syed Is Reigniting Our Serial Obsession

The case of Adnan Syed, a now-34 year-old man from Baltimore who was convicted by jury when he was 17 years old for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, is undergoing a three-day hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court. The body of Lee was discovered in 1999 in a shallow grave in a nature reserve in Baltimore County; Syed has consistently maintained his innocence over the years, and his attorneys are arguing that he should have a new trial, claiming that key evidence was overlooked and misinterpreted in the original trial more than fifteen years ago.

Syed’s case became the focus of global attention when it was covered in a twelve-part podcast series called Serial in 2014. Serial was dubbed “the most popular podcast in the world” by Apple and was officially the fastest to reach five million downloads in the United States. In the series, journalist Sarah Koenig explored the evidence that convinced the jury to give Syed a life sentence, and questions whether he was fairly represented at the time. For instance, an alibi for Syed who was never asked to testify in the original trial, was broadcast in the podcast and is at the center of this week’s court hearings.

This may well be a murder mystery that is never truly resolved, but even the simple fact that a podcast has introduced new evidence into a 15 year-old murder case and shaken things up as far as it has is astonishing. Koenig is reporting from the hearing herself in a series of three new podcast episodes which you can listen to here. And if you haven't heard the first season of Serial, all twelve original episodes are available for free online. —Sophie Caldecott

Utah Senator Calls Porn a ‘Public Health Crisis’

This week much talk was had about a resolution proposed in Utah by senator Todd Weiler that called porn “a public health crisis.” Citing links to hypersexualization of teens, infidelity, divorce, prostitution, and addictive behavior, Weiler’s resolution calls for “Legislature and the Governor [to] recognize the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation.” Nonetheless, outlets are hyping the resolution as a “ban” on porn and attempting to disprove the “public health crisis” assertion.

Politics aside, opponents of the resolution will be disappointed to find that regarding porn and its societal effects, the evidence is already in. Despite wishful thinking otherwise, porn has been linked with objectifying women (any surprise here?) which can lead to poor body image (the American Psychological Association, which in 2007 completed a report on the sexualization of girls, knows this). Exposure of children to pornographic content (earliest exposure of which is said to be between 11 and 13 years old) can lead to unhealthy views on sex. And lest there be any doubt, objectifying imagery of women is a major contributing factor of sexism and mistreatment of women. In addition, frequent porn use has led many to have unhealthy addictions that disrupt their daily lives. It doesn’t help porn’s cause that it’s an industry that’s rife with abuses for the actors themselves. Regardless of the fate of Utah’s resolution, it’s fair to say this is an issue that needs more serious attention, not less. —Mary Rose Somarriba

Postpartum Depression Continues to Be in the News

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force issued an official recommendation this week stating all pregnant women and new mothers should be screened for depression. Then bestselling author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson caused an uproar when she posted a response on her public Facebook page about the recommendation and said that hormonal imbalances were normal after pregnancy.

For Verily, Anna Quinlan points out, the thinking that mood swings are normal is exactly why PPD is stigmatized in society and why women do not seek help. Quinlan writes, “Acknowledging that PPD is a real thing and that it affects not only the women who suffer from it but also their babies certainly seems like a strong start. Advising doctors to care for their patients with this in mind seems smart. Encouraging meditation, prayer, good nutrition, and love certainly doesn’t hurt. Motherhood is challenging, tiring work even for the most prepared and best supported among us. Ultimately, our hope is simply that no new mother would have to suffer the symptoms of PPD in silence.” —Diana Stancy

Everyone’s Excited About the New Gilmore Girls

Netflix has officially confirmed that a new miniseries of Gilmore Girls is in the works. Although the release date hasn’t been shared yet, a series of exclusive interviews have revealed some juicy details for fans. Speaking to TV Line, Lauren Graham (who plays Lorelai Gilmore) enthused about how the story is “what I hoped it would be.” Since the show ended back in 2007, Ed Herrmann (who played Lorelai’s father, Richard) has passed away, and it sounds like this sad fact looms large as a major plot point in the script. We’ve also discovered that the infamous four final words that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has had in mind for years are divided between Lorelai and Rory, and that everyone is hoping like crazy that Melissa MacCarthy (whose big break came after the series ended) will be able to fit a cameo as the loveable Sookie into her busy schedule. —SC

New Law Introduced to Address the Gender Pay Gap

Last Friday the government put forward executive action obliging companies with a hundred or more employees to provide reports on how much they pay their employees, broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity. The plan was proposed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor, and marked the seven-year anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. As The Atlantic reports, “It is hoped that this transparency will help to root out discrimination and reduce the gender pay gap.” The White House reported that the gender wage gap in the USA is 2.5 percent larger than the average among other industrialized countries.

As Christine Emba wrote for Verily last year, the gender wage gap isn’t as straightforward as it seems at first for a variety of reasons, including the fact that women often go into lower paying careers like teaching and nursing. For one reason or another, women are earning less. It will be interesting to see if initiatives like this one can help address the problem. —SC

Pro-Rape Campaigner (Yes, You Read That Right) Sparks Controversy

Hold on to your hats, people—this is the kind of news you hope is a sick joke when you hear it: A controversial blogger, dubbed “a pickup artist,” who writes guide books for sex tourists and argues that rape should be legalized on private property has organized meetings in two major Scottish cities on Saturday. Thousands of Scottish citizens have signed a petition requesting that he be banned from promoting his views in their country, and meanwhile the police have issued a high alert warning for the events. This man, Daryush Valizade, is a 36-year-old American, and will not be present at the events, but will talk via video stream. Valizade says that he hopes this will be an opportunity for his supporters to "come out of the shadows and not have to hide behind a computer screen for fear of retaliation." —SC

Barbie Adds More Body Shapes and Races

Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer, has released a new look for Barbie dolls. Now, the dolls are available in various shapes, sizes, and skin tones. Mattel is clearly hoping that parents who previously banned Barbie for fear of instilling unhealthy body image messages in their children’s minds will now be open to allowing Barbie dolls in their home. For Verily, Anna Quinlan noted this week, parents have voted with their dollars and Mattel has gotten the message. “The move is a risk for Mattel, as Barbie’s appearance is at the core of her brand. [But it’s] a risk worth taking.... As Barbie continues to tackle new careers and new adventures, now she shows us that those accomplishments are available regardless of the shape of her figure.” We couldn’t agree more. —DS

The Street Harassment Post Heard ‘Round the World

This week a post went viral, igniting another wave of Internet responses to street harassment. While wearing a winter parka, and knee-high boots, Christen Brandt passed by a man who told her she had nice legs. After ignoring him, he continued commenting on her legs. Brant’s takeaway from the experience was that regardless of what one wears, street harassment can still occur, adding that we shouldn’t tell girls to avoid “short skirts” because it doesn’t make a difference. Of course, while clothing of any type is not an invitation for harassment, Baleigh Scott reminds us that encouraging or discouraging sexual assault is not the only reason for choosing an outfit. —DS

Singer Halsey Speaks Out About a Taboo Women’s Health Topic

This week, 21-year-old pop star Halsey shared on Twitter that she suffers from endometriosis. The painful uterine condition affects approximately five million women in the United States. Halsey expressed that she often was misdiagnosed or was told she was being a “baby” for reacting to the pain. We’re thankful that celebrities like Halsey have become outspoken about these conditions because hopefully, the stigma surrounding these health issues will be eliminated. As Anna Quinlan noted, “For many women, any medical concerns surrounding their reproductive health are accompanied by a stigma that may cause them to keep quiet about their symptoms or feel ashamed. So we applaud celebrities who have the courage to speak openly about such issues,” Thank you, Halsey, for bringing this important topic to a national conversations. —DS