Just in Time for February, the Myth of Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl Returns

Metlife_Stadium.jpg
Photo by Flickr user Section 215.
MetLife Stadium, where this year's Super Bowl will be played.
It's almost Super Bowl time, and you know what that means: sex slaves, thousands of them, flooding into the area around New Jersey's MetLife stadium to be raped by morally bankrupt football fans.

That's the story from the Associated Press, anyway; an article by Katie Zezima and Samantha Henry published this month warned that sex trafficking is always a huge problem around the Super Bowl, and that the Jersey location of this year's game will only make matters worse: "Many believe the state's sprawling highway system, proximity to New York City and diverse population make it an attractive base of operations for traffickers."

The only problem is, that story -- about trafficked women and children being driven into Super Bowl towns in large numbers to be brutalized every year when game time rolls around -- isn't true. It wasn't true 10 years ago, when a version of the story first started circulating, and it will continue to not be true this year. So, why are you reading about it in an Associated Press article, on PolicyMic, in the New York Daily News, the Huffington Post, and dozens of other media outlets, not one of which can apparently refrain from using some version of the phrase "a dark side to the big game"?

The durability of the Super Bowl prostitution myth isn't surprising, given that it relies on just three things: politicians desperate for headlines, obliging journalists willing to write a big, breathless story before the game without doing any real follow-up afterwards, and anti-trafficking groups who desperately need donations and are grateful for any attention the media will give them.

That's what Voice Media Group editor Pete Kotz wrote about in 2012, when he discovered that Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller was claiming that his office was cracking down on sex traffickers in advance of the Super Bowl there. In fact, Kotz wrote:

Zoeller is riding the momentum of a hoax that's reignited before every major sporting event, be it the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the Olympics or the NBA All-Star game. Alarming figures are pulled from the mist of imagination, where extra zeros apparently come free with every purchase. Anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 hookers will be coming to town! Hide the women and children! And perhaps the more effeminate men as well! You know, just in case!

Before Zoeller, it was Attorney General Greg Abbott in Texas in 2011, warning that the streets of Dallas would be flooded with prostitutes, as well as trafficked women and children (many of these AGs often make little or no distinction between sex workers and victims of trafficking). Before Abbott, it was Florida's and Arizona's AGs with the same message. But as Kotz discovered, none of these towns actually saw any significant upswing in prostitution arrests, and absolutely no evidence that large rings of sex traffickers came to town to capitalize on sports fans' unquenchable lust.

If you think you've read about this in the pages of the Village Voice before, you're right; Kotz's story ran here, as did a multi-part series on truth and myth-making around sex trafficking. At the time, the Voice was owned by Village Voice Media, which also owned backpage.com. As you probably recall, Backpage opponents accused the website and Village Voice Media as a whole of helping to facilitate sex trafficking by allowing adult ads. In September 2012, the chain of newspapers and Backpage went their separate ways; the Voice's new parent company, Voice Media Group, is not affiliated with Backpage. (You can read good, impartial analyses of the Backpage controversy at TechCrunch, Salon, and Forbes).

So, the company I work for has changed. What didn't: the number of sex trafficking rings busted during the Super Bowl, which remains stubbornly low to nonexistent.

"We didn't see a huge influx in prostitutes coming into Tampa," Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said after the 2009 game. "The arrests were not a lot higher. They were almost the same."

That's true of each and every single Super Bowl. In New Orleans, federal and state authorities proudly announced they arrested 85 people in the week leading up to the game under an anti-trafficking project known as Operation Innocence Lost. But in fact, only two of those men, Christopher Frazier and Datryl Blake, were arrested on suspicion of trafficking and pandering, along with five women they'd brought with them. At least two of the women were homeless; they reportedly told police they met Frazier at a gas station in Oklahoma and exchanged numbers with him, then later agreed to go to New Orleans with him. They told police the men promised that they'd only have to go on non-sexual dates with lonely old men.

It's a much muddier picture than the image of mass trafficking conjured up by the most alarmist media reports. In 2011, National Football League spokesman Brian McCarthy called sex trafficking at the Super Bowl an "urban legend." Recently, he told the Voice: "These same issues were expressed before previous Super Bowls. We were pleased to learn that the grave concerns about human trafficking and prostitution were not realized. Federal, state, and local law enforcement deserve the credit for keeping host cities safe."

But although the NFL knows the sex trafficking story isn't true, it's gained so much traction that the organization has learned to take it seriously. So McCarthy hastened to add this: "To further illustrate our support of law enforcement's efforts to combat human trafficking when there are "special events," the league's Security Department hosted a meeting in September of the supervisory command staff of the Violent Crimes Against Children Section of the FBI."

It's not just the NFL dismissing a claim that makes them look bad (they're too busy with massive concussion lawsuits for that). The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women released a report in 2011 confirming that the "sporting events bring sex slaves" story was a myth, one that had been around since the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece. It found, too, that many of the anti-trafficking campaigns set around sporting events -- for example the 2010 Vancouver Olympics -- "confused trafficking with sex work and relied on extremely negative imagery about women."

That's because many of the anti-trafficking organizations involved in perpetuating this hoax believe that there's no difference between prostitution and sex trafficking, and advocate for the total abolishment of sex work (those organizations in fact frequently refer to themselves as "abolitionist," making an explicit tie with the Civil War-era anti-slavery movement). Many of them are also faith-based, including the International Justice Mission, which pledged to head to the Dallas Super Bowl to rescue trafficked women in 2011, then quietly failed to mention that there were no trafficked women to be found.

This year, the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking , a group of mainly faith-based nonprofits, released a fact sheet on how they planned to deter trafficking at this year's game. At the same time, they acknowledged, rather obliquely, that there's virtually no proof to back up their claims that the area will be flooded with traffickers and their victims. A section on how to respond to those who "downplay concern about the Super Bowl" states: "Currently, there are very few ways of collecting statistics on Human Trafficking. However, at the governmental level there is an acknowledgement of the potential increase of Human Trafficking around large sporting events."

Even the latest Associated Press story acknowledges that the evidence for this claim is shaky at best, writing:

There are scant statistics and much debate over how much sex trafficking increases during a Super Bowl or large sporting event, but it's been enough of a concern to prompt New Jersey and prior Super Bowl host cities to pay attention to it.


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jessstresstest

Your article is rather devoid of empathy whilst speaking on such a sensitive topic. for example: "But in fact, only two of those men, Christopher Frazier and Datryl Blake, were arrested on suspicion of trafficking and pandering, along with five women they'd brought with them. At least two of the women were homeless; they reportedly told police they met Frazier at a gas station in Oklahoma and exchanged numbers with him, then later agreed to go to New Orleans with him. They told police the men promised that they'd only have to go on non-sexual dates with lonely old men" --- So because the women are "homeless" you feel this enforces your claim that they weren't really part of sex trafficking? The homeless are among the most vulnerable for this type of industry. Women in this industry are often told lies about only having to go on non-sexual dates. Perhaps you should get to know the stories of women who have been trafficked. Perhaps you should try and understand why prostitution and sex trafficking are considered the same by many. I recognize that you attempt in your story to advocate for organizations against human trafficking and it SEEMS at times that you do in fact empathize with those in bondage to sex work, but the overall jist of the article seems to paint those hard at work to stop it as a little crazed. I'm sorry, but this rubbed me the wrong way. I have never been involved in any type of organization that works to end it, nor do even know anyone who has been a victim themselves. My only claim is hearing the testimonies of women who have been in the sex for sale business at my church and it's astonishing.

ivan65
ivan65

Feminism's really getting on the nerves of the left as even progressives grow tired of the distortions generated to conflate certain viable issues of abuse thru "intersectionality" with other issues often relevant but often not except by yes, sexist stereotype of only-always "evil usurpers" and only-always "victimized" innocents....with no element of consent or choice included.


People are actually more complicated than a woman's studies class.

NewsDog
NewsDog

Anna, good article.  

Now snark:

As you will no doubt recall, the real reasons the 10,000 hookers didn't show up in Dallas for the game wasn't that they didn't exist:

The Big Pimp himself, Jerry Jones, was already making sure all the fans were getting f&%*ed over. And the whole D/FW region was suffering from that years snow/icepocolypse.  

LauraAgustin
LauraAgustin

@mistressmatisse surprised no editor removed comments as being 'too hard' or 'too deep' or whatever. several whole sentences in a row too!

DrewHunkins
DrewHunkins

This is a stupendous piece by Ms. Merlan and the Village Voice.  Thanks for running this trenchant and fine article that does so much to dispel so much misinformation.

watson99123
watson99123

WFAA News Dallas, Texas

By JASON WHITELY
Posted on January 31, 2011 at 10:52 PM
Updated Tuesday, Feb 1 at 1:55 PMDALLAS — For weeks now, police, politicians and non-profit agencies have warned that a wave of prostitutes will be coming to North Texas for Super Bowl festivities.
But News 8 has learned there is no evidence supporting such claims.“I think it will be like nothing we’ve ever experienced before,” said Deena Graves, executive director of  Traffick 911, a Fort Worth organization dedicated stopping the sale of children into sexual slavery.
Graves is among those warning of an alarming increase in underage girls sold for sex during the Super Bowl.”Traffickers follow the money, and there’s a whole lot of money that comes with the Super Bowl,” she said.Police and politicians have also issued similar statements.
“The Super Bowl is, unfortunately, a major draw for human trafficking,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said during a news conference on the topic at Dallas Police headquarters recently.Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott gave reporters similar warnings in Arlington.But no one can answer the question, “How do you know?”since pimps and prostitutes don’t register anywhere. Still, what makes the problem so much worse during the Super Bowl? Similar stories about the sex trade surround almost every major sporting event — even the Olympics and the World Cup.To investigate their validity, News 8 began checking with police departments in other cities that have also hosted the Super Bowl.Phoenix hosted the big game three years ago. Police there told News 8 they received similar warnings about an increase in prostitution and prepared for it, but never uncovered any evidence of a spike in illegal sexual activity.“I think one of the things people automatically assume is that while you’ve got influential people in town, people with significant amounts of money and therefore a whole lot of prostitution is going to follow with that,” said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson. “We did not notice an increase or anything out of the ordinary.”Tampa hosted the Super Bowl in 2009. A police spokeswoman there said officers there made 11 prostitution arrests during the entire week leading up to the game.

And last year, Miami police told News 8 they arrested 14 for prostitution.

Those figures are not uncommon for large cities during a seven-day period, experts said.

Last year, Canada debunked similar hype about prostitutes around the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  British Columbia funded a study which concluded that “sex trafficking and mega-events are not linked.”

A European group called The International Organization for Migration arrived at the same conclusion in Germany after rumors that 40,000 prostitutes would go to the 2006 World Cup. The estimations are “unfounded and unrealistic,” the IOM reported.

Ernie Allen, director for The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said he was misquoted last year when predicting 10,000 prostitutes would show up in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

Allen said the Super Bowl likely doesn’t attract more sex traffickers than any other large event. What’s more, he also conceded there is no way to quantify the problem.

Still, he and Graves both said the issue is under-recognized and under-reported.

“Sometimes when numbers are very high, people think it’s hopeless and they may not even try to address the issue,” said Becky Sykes of the Dallas Women’s Foundation.

The organization has commissioned a study to research Internet ads and escort services during February.  It’s specifically looking for underage girls as prostitutes and hoping — for the first time — to see whether the Super Bowl really increases sex trafficking in the host city.

Critics blame some women’s groups for the prostitution myth as they try to raise awareness without facts.
No one disputes that trafficking is a serious and sickening problem, but whether the Super Bowl intensifies it is a prediction no one can yet prove.

Dallas TV News show about super bowl sex slave myth:

http://www.wfaa.com/sports/football/super-bowl/Super-Bowl-prostitution-prediction-has-no-proof–114983179.html

Video only:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX4B9KqDl9k


http://bebopper76.wordpress.com/

watson99123
watson99123

There are many feminist women’s groups who lobby the government and make the government and Law enforcement believe that all men are evil and all women are angels that can do no wrong when it comes to sex.  It is very interesting that none of these anti-sex trafficking groups believe that a man can be a sex trafficking victim.


Since they believe it is impossible for a man to be a victim when it comes to sex.


(Some of these groups include: Polaris Project, Traffick911, Not for Sale, A Future Not A Past, Shared Hope International, Salvation Army, Women’s Funding Network, The Dallas Women’s Foundation, and many others like them.) These anti-sex hate groups have nothing to do with helping abused sex trafficking victims because of the following reason:


“If there was a loose  adult woman in a town who was not a prostitute – just a normal woman who has a high sex drive and has consensual sex and dates many different men for free of her own free will,  and who flirts with a lot of men.  These so-called anti-sex trafficking groups would think that was horrible, terrible thing and the woman and the men who date her must stop this behavior.  These groups would lobby the government to make laws to forbid this type of behavior.  These anti-sex trafficking groups believe that a grown adult woman should not be having sex with men for any reason.   They believe that the act of an adult woman having consensual sex with men of her own free will is in fact, a disgusting, vile, unnatural, abusive act that must be stopped at all costs.”


The anti-sex trafficking groups openly believe and promote that ALL men are rapists or future rapists that are not to be trusted.  The prejudice and sexist hating of men is politically correct and encouraged in countries like America and Great Briton.  Which the American government then forces other countries to make anti-male laws or face economic or military sanctions.  This creates a terrible environment for men since hating men because they are men is considered the right thing to do.


These anti-sex trafficking and feminist groups believe that all women should be treated like children in regards to sex.  They feel that it is impossible for an adult woman to give consent to sex with a man.  Therefore all sex with a man is considered rape.   Any woman who tells them that they gave consent to sex with a man they feel must be coerced, forced to say that, or mentally insane and needs mental help.  Because what women in their right mind would ever consent to having sex with a man?


The feminist women’s groups on college campus, in law enforcement, and government in America believe that when a woman says YES to sex –she really means NO. No matter what the woman says or does the answer to sex is always –NO!  YES means NO!  No means NO, maybe means NO, silence means NO.  If she gets sexy and physical with a man, and says she wants sex, the man must realize the answer is still NO!  And walk away. 


My best advice for men is:  — DON’T HAVE SEX WITH A WOMAN!  PERIOD!  – If you do, you can have lots of problems with the government, police, law enforcement, women’s groups, feminists, anti-sex trafficking groups, politicians,social services,  church leaders, lawyers, law makers, the universities, college, work supervisors, the news and the media.”


Link with some supporting views written by a woman:


http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324600704578405280211043510



http://bebopper76.wordpress.com/

leahbink
leahbink

@annaherself just started diving into the world of anti-trafficking vs. harm-reduction approaches to sex work. Nicely put by you, as usual.

annamerlan
annamerlan

@kaitlinugolik Right?? Dude, once you know these articles exist you'll see 'em everywhere. They get aggregated A LOT.

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leahbink
leahbink

@annaherself Oy, me too! It's the hardest thing I've ever worked on. So this tunnel with the light at the end...you have directions?

kaitlinugolik
kaitlinugolik

@annaherself seems like a real thing but they're def not differentiating btwn prostitution & trafficking

kaitlinugolik
kaitlinugolik

@annaherself OMG JUST heard on NY1 a/b a bust of sex/drug traffickers hoping to "capitalize on the Super Bowl"....

kaitlinugolik
kaitlinugolik

@annaherself I can see why. Tx for the reminder that every outrage is not outrageous for the reasons we think ....

drdavidjleonard
drdavidjleonard

@yayayarndiva yes -think sensationalism & spectacle undermines and takes spotlight off injustices and work being done outside criminal just

annamerlan
annamerlan

@leahbink Come to New York and eat some pierogis? Alternately, call 700 people and hope 3 of them call you back, like every other story?

annamerlan
annamerlan

@kaitlinugolik Maybe some sex workers deliberately head to Super Bowl towns? Could be. Nothing like what's being depicted, though.

kaitlinugolik
kaitlinugolik

@annaherself would you say there's at least some truth to it though? Like it goes up but not as dramatically as claimed?

annamerlan
annamerlan

@kaitlinugolik And that's the thing, right, you can't blame anti-trafficking organizations for allowing this myth, because they need help.

annamerlan
annamerlan

@kaitlinugolik Thanks, lady. Totally check out Pete Kotz's full story, it's fascinating. His stuff is so, so good.

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