The Urban Myth of the Super Bowl and a Rise in Sex Trafficking

With the Super Bowl coming to Minneapolis in 2018, the public worries that sex trafficking will increase

Illustrator: Natalie Klemond

Former U.S. Attorney General Greg Abbott told USA Today in 2011 that the Super Bowl is the “single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”  The Super Bowl has been perceived for years as a breeding ground for sex traffickers and men seeking prostitutes. The increase of fans to one area is thought to enlarge the number of men looking for sex, draw in more prostitutes, and allow for pimps and victims to go unnoticed.

However, while sex trafficking is indisputably a problem, especially in large cities, the association between sex trafficking and the Super Bowl has been overestimated and exaggerated to the point where it has become an urban myth. The amount of activity relating to sex trafficking in these areas is not any higher around the time of the Super Bowl.

“We didn’t see a huge influx in prostitutes coming into Tampa. The arrests were not a lot higher. They were almost the same,” Tampa police spokeswoman, Andrea Davis, said after the 2009 Super Bowl.

There is little evidence that demonstrates that it is the Super Bowl alone that causes increases in sex trafficking. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a non-governmental organization, published a report in 2011 researching the association between major sporting events like the World Cup, the Olympics, and the Super Bowl and sex trafficking.

Their report concluded, “Despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.” The link between popular sporting events and sex trafficking has been created by insufficient data, misinformation, and the susceptibility to sensationalize. Nevertheless, this concept is still used as an appeal for advocacy groups, journalists, and politicians.

It is particularly worrisome that politicians, such as the U.S. Attorney General, continue to state this idea as fact, repeating this claim on various instances despite the lack of evidence and support from researchers, anti-trafficking advocates, and non-governmental organizations.

The link between popular sporting events and sex trafficking has been created by insufficient data, misinformation, and the susceptibility to sensationalize.

Kate Mogulescu, founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society, said before the Super Bowl in 2014, “No data actually support the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl. Even with this lack of evidence, the myth has taken hold through sheer force of repetition, playing on desires to rescue trafficking victims and appear tough on crime.” Whether the Super Bowl is held in Dallas, New Orleans, or Minneapolis, the results are the same: local law enforcement pledges to put forward programs to prevent sex trafficking and hold news conferences to spread awareness. However, “the actual number of traffickers investigated or prosecuted hovers around zero,” Mogulescu says. These steps taken towards change and prevention are nothing more than illusion with aims to portray local law enforcement in a more positive light rather than protect victims and survivors.

Minneapolis, like the cities where past Super Bowls have been held, is promising to crack down on sex trafficking during this highly publicized event. The Star Tribune reported that a group including representatives of counties and law enforcement revealed a $1 million campaign to combat sex trafficking during the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. However, the experts at the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center agree that the claims that the Super Bowl is the largest human trafficking event are highly exaggerated. Yes, a slew of middle-aged white men will flock to Minneapolis for the event, but local law enforcement and politicians are using the Super Bowl and its false association with an increase in sex trafficking as a strategy to appear that they are tough on crime and to improve their own reputations.

Every year, the Super Bowl gets mass media attention as being a magnet for prostitutes and exponentially increasing sex trafficking despite there being no sufficient evidence. This leads to large amounts of money being put towards campaigns that aim to prevent something that isn’t happening on the scale that is being portrayed. This publicity is used to make politicians and local law enforcement seem more reputable, which is not only corrupt and fraudulent, but also unfair to victims in other areas where sex trafficking is a greater problem.