Human Trafficking and the Super Bowl

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It’s that time of year again…..Super Bowl weekend. Every year as the big game approaches, people turn their attention to sex trafficking. Local and national media outlets suggest that large sporting events are linked to spikes in human trafficking. On the surface, this might make sense. Or maybe you are thinking, “even if there isn’t an increase, more awareness is always good.” Unfortunately, there are some key problems with this approach: 1. This focus on sex trafficking ignores and minimizes labor trafficking. 2. There is no evidence showing that sex trafficking increases around sporting events, including the Super Bowl. 3. These campaigns can negatively impact the very same people they claim to help. 

  1. Ignoring labor trafficking. The Super Bowl generally brings millions of dollars to a region’s hospitality and tourism sectors. Because the stakes are high, businesses spend months preparing and scaling up to meet the demand, investing in construction, landscaping, and hiring additional staff. These industries are largely staffed by low-wage workers who are already vulnerable to human trafficking; including immigrants and BIPOC workers. The Office for Victims of Crime at the Department of Justice reports that in 2020, over 30% of the survivors served by their grantees were labor trafficking survivors. Restaurants, hotels, construction, resorts, and entertainment businesses are documented settings where labor trafficking flourishes. In 2020, Miami developed rapid response teams, curated an elaborate community-based outreach campaign, and mobilized law enforcement. Almost none of it addressed labor exploitation. If we invest in these campaigns, it is critical that they are based in a real understanding of human trafficking in America, which means that they must address labor trafficking. 
  2. There is no evidence of an increase in sex trafficking. There is no evidence that a huge influx of traffickers descend on the host city or that human trafficking happens at greater rates during the Super Bowl. This is not to say that exploitation does not happen. The mobilization of police and coordination of community-based organization does identify survivors, and in rare cases, traffickers are brought into custody. However, these efforts have not shown any lasting impact on reducing trafficking in that area. The media coverage and increased police presence certainly leads to more arrests, but few lead to human trafficking prosecutions. These resources should be used to identify survivors throughout the year or invest in addressing what makes people vulnerable in the first place.
  3. Do these campaigns hurt or help? We know human trafficking survivors are arrested everyday by police, and the Super Bowl is no exception. These arrests, driven by increased police presence, are extremely harmful to trafficking survivors and consensual sex workers alike. A criminal record can prevent them from finding a job, accessing safe housing, professional licensing, higher education and scholarships, and even going on a school field trip with their child. Human trafficking survivors should never be arrested for crimes they were forced to commit. And yet, it continues to be a piece of the prosecution playbook. Consensual sex workers in vulnerable and unstable situations should be offered resources and support, not thrown into jail. To counteract this harm, the Survivor Reentry Project provides lawyers to help survivors access criminal record relief across the country. If you are a survivor or provider, visit our website to inquire whether your previous convictions might qualify.

Trafficking, both sex and labor, occurs every day of the year. We don’t need glossy campaigns and more awareness raising one week of the year. To truly help survivors of trafficking, we need to support vulnerable communities and center the individual rights of all of those who have been impacted.