Reflecting on the the Super Bowl Sex-Trafficking Truths and Myths

I’ve spent a good chunk of this weekend reading posts about the Super Bowl Sex Trafficking myths. For those who don’t know here’s a brief recap:
Various posts stating that the Super Bowl attracts hundreds of thousands of men to town leading to greater numbers of forced prostitution.
In response, fact-checkers offer that some of these statistics are unsubstantiated and much of the rhetoric is tired exaggeration offered before every major sporting/cultural event like the Olympics and the World Cup.

My first thought was that I felt a bit betrayed by the exaggerations from anti-traffickers. My wife and I support anti-trafficking organizations and efforts by giving, learning, sharing, creating awareness, and prayer. Have we been conned?

My second thought was to make a greater effort of learning and dedicating some thought and prayer throughout the weekend. Here’s what I came up with.

As one who may be prone to exaggerate for the sake of a good story, there’s a difference between exaggerating when everyone knows you are and exaggerating when they don’t. The latter is deceit, the former is part of human communication.

It feels to me that some may be guilty of unfairly exaggerating the horrible truth of trafficking. The rebuttal commonly offered is to use the enormous (and a bit ridiculous) attention dedicated to the Super Bowl to gain attention for important issues like trafficking.

On one hand I’m sympathetic to the hope of creating awareness for this atrocity. On the other, the bordering of deceit is never helpful.  Further, I found the truth to be a  bit comforting and confirming – I never understood how/why so many people could engage in such illicit practices.

For one, they really can’t fit any more people in the stadium than normal. The difference between a regular season NFL game and the Super Bowl is the magnitude of attention including more media, more cameras, more security,  but it’s hard to fit any more actual fans in the seats.

Which led me to wonder the type of fan that is filling the seat. Given the cost of Super Bowl tickets, only so many people can afford to go or get access to one even though we’re told they were cheaper this year. For example, just about every year you hear about someone you’re connected to who was fortunate enough to get two tickets. “Bob and his son are there right now!”
And you say, “Really? How did he get tickets?”
“Because one of his clients’ bosses couldn’t and he saved them all this money so this was their thank you to him.” “Wow, what does Bob do?”
“I’m not exactly sure but I think he’s in _______” and you tune out a little to make room for your jealousy and regret your career choice even though you still have no idea what Bob actually does.

Back to the point – I just can’t see Bob and his son enjoying the Super Bowl then heading off to celebrate with prostitutes. Instead, they’re probably headed to Applebee’s. I could be wrong but from what I see anecdotally, some of this has always bothered me.

Still, on the other hand, I do believe that there is a lot of prostitution happening around these high-profile events. For one, if trafficking and prostitution are happening all the time, it would be odd to assume that it happens less during a major event. Perhaps business is slow during gametime but a lot of people are in town, hotels are full, there is some down time and people who want to keep their secrets have greater privacy.  I’m pretty sure this is the idea of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Does it happen significantly more during the week of Super Bowl – I can’t say. Those looking into it tell us it’s not the case. Where does this leave us?

Option 1: Hate the Fact-checkers.
Everyone has their own agenda complicated by the fact, that most believe they are telling the truth (or their own version of it) – I get all this and admit to being part of this reality, you should too.

But to hate the fact-checkers seems counter-productive to me. We should always want more truth not less. We might engage in dialogue, learn more, fact-check the fact-checkers, all this is good. Undoubtedly, we will find stories hidden between the numbers as there are people in those numbers. Likely some stories we find will be tragic and some will be hopeful. Like this one.

Option 2: Hate the Anti-Trafficker
Another tempting option. But before you go down that road, consider the many noble and sacrificial people who are seeking to liberate women and children in particular from the evils of forced trafficking. The moral of this story could be simply that zealots exist on every side and often do some harm while doing a lot of good.

Option 3: Hate Everybody
“It’s too complicated.” “I’m too busy for this.” “One person tells you this, the other that.” “This is why I don’t like to get involved, read this stuff, give to this or bother with it.” “It’s all just too much.”
It’s tempting to give in to the craziness of it, retreat and soley focus on the aspects of our own individual lives but it’s often unwise to make a decision out of frustration. So consider …

Option 4: Dig Deeper
I know that people are being trafficked. Some say 300,000 in the U.S and others say it’s between 2-4 million here in the U.S. and 20-27 million worldwide. We’re told the discrepancy of numbers is due so much being undocumented and the significantly shorter lifespans of the trafficked. In any case, people are being trafficked.

I have also  literally heard in person some of their accounts. They are heartbreaking and so much of this feels unnecessary.  In fact, our church is hosting a simulcast for the Justice Conference Feb. 21 & 22 and prior to the simulcast we’ll be having pre-conference workshops (Friday beginning at 1pm). There will be an anti-trafficking seminar each of the four hours.

I have read too much, seen too much and received too much to justifiably reject the premise that human trafficking is not a huge issue and legitimate one to join the fight against. Trafficking is evil. I just can’t get my mind around its manipulation and its injustice. It’s among the many evils in our world, many of which are connected.

When people are rescued from forced-prostitution or forced labor, they are often rescued for something. This is one of the best things the Christians are doing – rescuing people and helping them find their lives in a better direction through after-care agencies, programs, and relationships. Even further, many discover there is a God who liberates, heals, redeems, and loves regardless. This is beautiful.

Where I am Right Now
Though it’s led to productive thought on the issue of human trafficking, I hope fewer exaggerated statistics or misleading headlines appear next year as such things are never helpful in the sustainable big picture. It will be interesting to take note of this next year.

Still, I am confident that good will come out of this, as that is the powerful nature of good. Because of God, good trumps evil in a fair fight, it even trumps it in an unfair one.

May none of us get disillusioned to fight against the evils of this world and may more join the many battles of liberation, justice and love.


These are some of the links I read over the weekend – various angles are included:
The Mythical Invasion of the Super Bowl Hookers by Maggie McNeil – I appreciated the frustration, appreciated the research, the ending but disagree on advocating for sex workers’ rights (as Maggie and I are coming from different starting points on this).

The Ugly Truth Behind the Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking by Aaron Kaufman – This would be an example of the posts/stats/awareness in question

Trafficking is happening on some level as these fools got busted

”When the discussion is dominated by fear-mongering, we fail to meaningfully address the actual causes of human trafficking. The annual oversimplification of the issue, in which we conflate all prostitution with trafficking, and then imply that arrest equals solution, does a disservice to year-round efforts to genuinely assist survivors of trafficking — with emergency housing, medical care and other crucial services.” Solid post by Kate Mogulescu
Super Bowl surge in sex trafficking? Maybe not, but issue grabs the spotlight

Sex Trafficking at the Super Bowl? It’s a Problem Every Day by Suzanne Grimes and Bradley Myles

Huffington Post – “Super Bowl and Human Trafficking – What You Need to Know”


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