The countdown to February 5 for the Super Bowl is on! While football enthusiasts will gather in New Orleans and in front of 72-inch TV’s to watch the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers settle the game on the gridiron, there is to be another kind of settling done in the city – the exchange of commercial sex. According to some reports from previous Super Bowls, large scale sporting events become attractive venues for human trafficking activities, given the presence of thousands of spectators and easy access to these major cities.
During the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, a trafficker was sentenced to 20 years in prison for offering the “Super Bowl Special” on Craigslist in the form commercial sex with a 14-year old girl. Some reports highlighted the increased number of prostitutes or trafficked victims brought into host cities during the Super Bowl season. In 2011, Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, declared the Super Bowl “one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States”. With this statement, his human trafficking task force worked in partnership with law enforcement and local anti-trafficking organizations to crack down on trafficking activities during the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas. During that same time, the Women’s Funding Network reported an 80% increase in Craigslist sex ads. Even the Indiana Attorney General, Greg Zoeller, prepared for the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis by supporting training for prosecutors, law enforcement, and advocates around this issue.
The draw of sex traffickers to highly populated cities and events make logical sense; however, some of the estimated numbers have been unfounded. For example, the Tampa Bay police department saw no increase in prostitution or sex trafficking cases during the 2009 Super Bowl. Even the FBI’s Dallas office reported saw no evidence of unusual increases in child sex trafficking cases as the host city in 2010.
The media and various anti-trafficking and human rights organizations have been called out for hyping up the incidence of trafficking during the Super Bowl. Their intentions were probably genuine – they wanted to bring attention to a serious issue in the U.S. that is destroying the lives of many young people, although their methods and strategies might have been misplaced by predicting an outlandish influx of trafficked persons into the cities. The media and such organizations have the power to rally and create fervent advocates out of previously uninformed people. Such topics that are easily sensationalized and that appeal to the human pathos need to be approached with caution. Check your facts!
I do have another point to make. In light of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month and the Super Bowl-trafficking dispute, consider yourself at least a little more educated about human trafficking. Please do read more about it – both international and domestic, sex and labor – then educate others about it, too! Human trafficking happens every day, most likely in your city or surrounding regions, urban and rural. You might be surprised.
For more educational reading, here is a publication from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women about the connection between sporting events and human trafficking.