2/4/2011 – OKC, OK (by Brian Bates) — There is a dark cloud billowing over the festivities of the 2011 Super Bowl to be held this Sunday in Arlington, Texas and that storm is fueled by the cries of anti-trafficking groups and a media thirsty to regurgitate their gloomy and often unsubstantiated predictions.
Yes, you read that right, JohnTV and I, the Video Vigilante, are actually casting doubt on those we often fight side-by-side with in our goal to positively impact street level prostitution and trafficking. Why? Because I feel the tactic of fear mongering in the absence of evidence hurts the effort to raise awareness and move the social conscious.
For the last week the media has been abuzz with headlines touting, “The seedy side of the Super Bowl,” “Super Bowl a magnet for under-age sex trade,” and “The Super Bowl of sex trafficking.”
As reported in the Christian Chronicle, “Katie Pedigo, executive director of New Friends New Life, estimates that 15,000 women and children will be brought to the Metroplex and sexually trafficked. Houses will be rented and transformed into brothels.”
Reuters makes the claim that, “Pimps will traffic thousands of under-age prostitutes to Texas for Sunday’s Super Bowl, hoping to do business with men arriving for the big game with money to burn.”
I am not asserting that prostitution and trafficking do not occur at these events, what I am questioning are headlines, statistics and predictions that rely on suspect if not completely fabricated origins all in an effort to make a point that is often left blunt in the wake of reality.
Each of the articles linked above (and re-reported countless times online and in print) follow the same template. First, use an over the top headline, followed by quotes from self proclaimed experts and end with tales of trafficking that rarely if ever have anything to do with the event demonized in the story. The important element missing from virtually all of these articles are actual facts to substantiate the call to arms.
The sporting events equals trafficking phenomenon is not limited to the Super Bowl or even the United States. These same headlines have appeared in relation to (and always preceding) the Olympic games, World Series, World Cup and virtually every other majoring sporting event around the world. I say ‘always preceding’ because, while the stories proliferate prior to the sporting event in question, they never seem to prevail with accounts, after the fact, of trafficking thwarted and victims saved.
Not to be outshined by others, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is quoted by numerous media outlets as saying, “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States” and there is a “looming potential explosion of human trafficking around the Super Bowl.”
Of course, as with most of these predictions, no specific evidence is offered as a foundation for such assertions and rarely does a journalist question the validity of the propaganda.
In a Newsweek article they attempt to provide some foundation with the following; “Past Super Bowls have borne this out. In the wake of 2009’s game in Tampa, Florida’s Department of Children and Families took in 24 children who’d been trafficked to the city for sex work.” However, other news outlets reported that Tampa police claim to have only made 11 prostitution arrests the week of the 2009 Super Bowl and none were minors or linked to trafficking. In 2010 the Super Bowl was held in Miami and police there told news outlets that they only made 14 prostitution arrests that week and they didn’t consider that to be a high number compared to any other week in their city.
The 2010 Winter Olympics, held in Vancouver, faced the same sex trafficking fear mongering. In response, British Columbia funded a study which concluded that “sex trafficking and mega-events are not linked.” In support of that finding, police saw no measurable rise in the incidents of prostitution or trafficking.
In 2006 many activist groups proclaimed that up to 40,000 prostitutes (both willing and forced) would be descending upon World Cup in Germany. The European group International Organization for Migration (IOM) did a conclusive study and found the estimations were “unfounded and unrealistic.”
As reported by media outlets, in 2010 Ernie Allen, director for The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, claimed he was misquoted when predicting 10,000 prostitutes would show up in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV. Allen reportedly 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.
I’m not alone in my skepticism; Danny Pollard of Dallas, Texas wrote on this topic for Suite101, and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women issued a brief paper suggesting there is no increase in trafficking of women forced into prostitution in connection with large sporting events. The GAAT went a step further when they stated, “Most efforts to fight human trafficking are founded on hearsay rather than objective research, making failure a certainty.”
“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.
That is not to say that prostitution and the sexual trafficking of others, let alone children, is not a real and tragic reality, whether it be one or one hundred thousand. To the contrary, it is the opinion of JohnTV and myself that one only serves to bolster one’s detractors when they realize you’ve armed yourself with fable and hyperbole.