While no one disputes the idea that any sex trafficking is too much sex trafficking, and that people caught in that evil trade are usually there unwillingly, there is ample reason to dispute what has become an annual refrain: that the Super Bowl attracts the highest level of sex trafficking.
Like the lie that domestic violence is highest on Super Bowl Sunday, this claim seems targeted at sports-loving men. Those animals!
Some attribute the genesis of this lie to then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (now a candidate for Texas Governor) who, in 2011, said that the Super Bowl is “commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” However, others have noted these stories go back at least 2 years earlier.
But there simply isn’t any evidence this is actually the case.
From The Gospel Coalition: FactChecker: Super Bowl Sex Trafficking and Other Myths
Human trafficking is one of the greatest evils of our age. But contrary to the claim of Abbott — and journalists who repeat the claim every year — there is no evidence that sex trafficking increases during the Super Bowl.
According to the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, police departments in cities hosting the Super Bowl deny that sex trafficking increases around the game:
2008: Phoenix police Sergeant Tommy Thompson: “We may have had certain precincts that were going gangbusters looking for prostitutes, but they were picking up your everyday street prostitutes. They didn’t notice any sort of glitch in the number of prostitution arrests leading up to the Super Bowl.”
2009: Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis: “We didn’t see a huge influx in prostitutes coming into Tampa. The arrests were not a lot higher. They were almost the same.”
2010: Miami police said they arrested 14 for prostitution. Those figures are not uncommon for large cities during a seven-day period, experts said.
2011: Public information officer Sherri Jeffrey with the Dallas Police Department: There were “zero arrests for trafficking in the time frame surrounding the Super Bowl.”
Sports on Earth: The Sex Trafficking Super Bowl Myth
The persistence of the Super Bowl sex-trafficking myth can be credited to the theatrical quality of its anecdotes. McCain’s activism originated with an experience she had while shopping in Calcutta. She heard noises under the shop floor and looked down. “I could see all these little eyes looking up at me, and I realized it was probably 30 little girls, looking up through the floorboards at me,” she said. “I realized at that time that it was very serious, and these girls were either enslaved or being trafficked, but the kicker was [that] I walked out of that shop, and I never did anything.” Afterwards, McCain approached Arizona governor Jan Brewer to propose taking action on trafficking, and the state’s Task Force on Human Trafficking was created.
In 2012, The Houston Press’s Peter Kotz thoroughly tore apart that story, explaining that law enforcement officials in the cities where past Super Bowls occurred never actually saw increases in prostitution busts or the number of trafficked prostitutes, even despite increased efforts to catch johns, pimps, and traffickers. “We didn’t see a huge influx in prostitutes coming into Tampa. The arrests were not a lot higher. They were almost the same,” a Tampa police spokeswoman said in 2009, and a police spokesperson in Phoenix said in 2008 that there was nothing out of the ordinary: “We may have had certain precincts that were going gangbusters looking for prostitutes, but they were picking up your everyday street prostitutes,” and not foreign women “imported” for the event.
“This myth trivializes trafficking … and wastes needed resources that could be used to actually address trafficking,” said Julie Ham, author of a 2011 study on human trafficking and major sporting events for the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women.
“This is part of a larger moral panic about trafficking, which reduces all trafficking to sex. All trafficking is not about sex,” said Pardis Mahdavi, professor in anthropology at Pomona College, Cal., whose research focuses on human trafficking.