Super Bowl City Plans Anti-Trafficking Push, Though Experts Call It a Myth

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It’s been a tradition prior to the last few Super Bowls: Institutions associated with the city hosting the big game, led by law enforcement, taking a stand against sex trafficking and the supposed spike that takes place in relation to the Super Bowl.

This year Atlanta, the city hosting next Sunday’s big game, has launched such a push, and part of the effort is a group of Atlanta Falcons players led by quarterback Matt Ryan.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Ryan, retired player Robby White, and other NFL stars, including Aaron Rodgers and Nick Foles, have teamed up on the “It’s a Penalty” campaign, which encourages awareness about human trafficking and letting individuals call the number listed if they suspect human trafficking. The city also plans to host an ATL End Human Trafficking Summit this Tuesday. And volunteers have “fanned out across the Metro area” to stop the practice, per Fox 5 Atlanta.

However, the notion that the Super Bowl weekend leads to a significant spike in sex trafficking has been questioned repeatedly and called a myth by journalists, experts, and others.

Politifact looked at the question back in 2015 and found that “there is very little empirical evidence that speaks to this oft-repeated claim — even though there is some recent academic research on the topic.” The Politifact story rated “Mostly False” the claim by Sen. Jon Cornyn that the Super Bowl “has one of the highest levels of human sex trafficking activity of any event in the country.”

The story also stated that in such reports, arrests for prostitution are often conflated with sex trafficking, even when there’s no evidence that any trafficking took place, and that spikes in arrests surrounding Super Bowls and other big events often have more to do with increased law enforcement attention than anything else.

“The hype around large sporting events and increases in trafficking for prostitution is often based on misinformation, poor data and a tendency to sensationalize,” an advocacy group called The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women wrote in a 2011 report.

“There is some empirical data to support claims that the Super Bowl, like many other large and localized public events, correlates with an increase in the number of advertisements in the online market for commercial sex in the host city,” a University of Minnesota study found in 2017, prior to Minnesota hosting Super Bowl LII.

“However, the Super Bowl does not appear to have the largest impact and evidence suggests the impact is short-lived. The data are inconclusive as to the extent of trafficking by a third-party facilitator in relation to the noted increase in online ads for sex.”