Claim: As the Super Bowl draws near, legions of prostitutes flock to the city where the big game is being held.
Example: [KEPR-TV, February 2012]
Origins: According to widely-believed lore, each year the city hosting the Super Bowl is inundated by an influx of prostitutes intent upon partaking of the big bucks brought to that town by
It's a logical premise: many fans who turn up for the Big Game are long on cash and short on inhibition, and prostitution thrives on both the plenitude of the one and the relative lack of the other.
However, the facts don't conform to the hypothesis. While prostitution may take place in Super Bowl host cities during the week of the Big Game, that vice exists in those locales at other times too, and data confirming the presence of thousands, tens of thousands, or maybe even one hundred thousand or more freshly-arrived ladies of the evening in the Super Bowl host city is lacking. Nor is there substantive evidence that large numbers of sex workers are involuntarily trafficked to the area of that event. As Kate Mogulescu, founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society, wrote just before the 2014 Super Bowl:
The problem is that there is no substantiation of these claims. The rhetoric turns out to be just that.
No data actually support the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a network of nongovernmental organizations, published a report in 2011 examining the record on sex trafficking related to World Cup soccer games, the Olympics and the Super Bowl. It found that, "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."
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 game is in Dallas, Indianapolis or New Orleans, the pattern is the same: Each Super Bowl host state forms a trafficking task force to "respond" to the issue; the task force issues a foreboding statement; the National Football League pledges to work with local law enforcement to address trafficking; and news conference after news conference is held. The actual number of traffickers investigated or prosecuted hovers around zero.
This simplistic equation relies on problematic assumptions about masculinity, business practices within the sex industry, sex workers' capacity to take action, and the root causes of trafficking.
The hype around large sporting events and increases in trafficking for prostitution is often based on
What's troubling is that this idea has been taken for granted as fact, particularly by politicians. On various occasions, politicians have uncritically repeated this claim, despite the fact that numerous researchers, anti-trafficking experts, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have stated that there is no evidence of a link between large sporting events and trafficking for prostitution.
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. This link has been de-bunked by other anti-trafficking organisations and researchers. There is also no empirical evidence that the demand for paid sex increases dramatically during international sporting events.
To be clear, sex trafficking is a legitimate issue outside of the convenient Super Bowl news bubble. But again, there's no evidence that a mass influx of sports fans increases the problem or contributes to it in some way. Ultimately, spreading misinformation can end up undercutting efforts to bring awareness to the very real problem of sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Focusing only on the Super Bowl and quick fixes like ramped up police patrol, doesn't address the bigger, ongoing problem of sex exploitation.
- For the 1998 Super Bowl, police in the host city of
San Diegodid not cancel vacations, switch to 12-hourshifts, nor form a task force to deal with prostitution because such measures were deemed unnecessary after that city's having hosted that event in 1988.
- Said Phoenix police Sergeant Tommy Thompson after the 2008 Super Bowl: "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."
- Said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis after the 2009 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."
- Arlington, Texas, Deputy Chief Jaime Ayala reported after the 2011 Super Bowl that of the
59 peoplearrested on prostitution-related offenses, only 13 were non-localsex trade workers.
The teens, ages 13 to 17, were found in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. More than 50 women coerced into sex for money were also saved, the agency said. Some of the victims had been involved in international sex trafficking.
Last updated: 30 January 2015
Barton, Eric. "Sun-Sentinel Front-Page Story Repeats Super Bowl Prostitution Urban Legend." Broward/Palm Beach New Times. 3 February 2012. Gabrielson, Ryan. "Vice Getting Boost from Big Game, Too." [Mesa] East Valley Tribune. 31 January 2008. Ham, Julie. "What's the Cost of a Rumour?" Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. 2011. Jervis, Rick. "Super Bowl Draws Child Sex Rings." USA Today. 1 February 2011 (p. A3). Kotz, Pete. "The Super Bowl Prostitution Hoax." Riverfront Times. 2 February 2012. Kotz, Pete. "Super Bowl Prostitution." Dallas Observer. 3 March 2011. Mogulescu, Kate. "The Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking." The New York Times. 31 January 2014. Sanchez, Ray et al. "High-End Drug and Prostitution Ring Busted on Super Bowl Week." CNN.com. 31 January 2014. Trischitta, Linda. "South Florida a Gateway for Child Sex Trafficking." South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 2 February 2012. Winter, Michael. "FBI: Kids 13 to 17 Rescued from Super Bowl Prostitution." USA Today. 4 February 2014. Associated Press. "59 Arrested in Super Bowl Prostitution Crackdown." 15 February 2011.