Around this time every year we notice a spike in press coverage, especially in US media, about a projected rise in trafficking for sex in whichever US state is hosting the Super Bowl. It is an idea that is used to frame prostitution abolitionist and/or anti-migrant sentiments in a more humanitarian form. This moral panic starts over a year in advance of the event: the first story we noticed for the 2014 Super Bowl in New Jersey was published back in August 2012.

GAATW’s 2011 report, What’s the Cost of a Rumour? A guide to sorting out the myths and the facts about sporting events and trafficking, critically analysed this manufactured media hype about the role of international sporting events in creating a “demand” for trafficked women and children. Although this always generates a lot of media attention, action by anti-prostitution groups and law enforcement, and funding for anti-trafficking activities by state actors and NGOs, there is no evidence to support the claim. Subsequent research on more recent sporting events has confirmed this finding, for example here, here and here.

One of the recommendations from our research was to challenge misleading and harmful campaigns. This year that is happening, with a number of articles appearing across blogs, independent and mainstream media challenging the myth of major sporting events sparking a rise in trafficking into the sex sector.

Here’s a selection of the articles we’ve spotted (in date order). We’re glad that many of the writers have found our research useful. They raise a range of concerns about the trafficking hype generated in advance of Super Bowl XLVIII, including the bad policy decisions that flow from it - what GAATW has termed ‘collateral damage’ (examined in detail in our 2007 report, see also an article by Melissa Gira Grant on this in the context of last year’s Super Bowl moral panic here) - and the over-simplification of trafficking in persons as a one-off event instead of addressing it as a complex issue involving factors such as migration and labour rights:

  • The real criminals are the cops: Superbowl hype questioned, Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP), BPPP, 28 January
  • The Sex Trafficking Super Bowl Myth, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, Sports on Earth, 29 January
  • The Super Bowl trafficking myth: Every game brings warnings of a boom in forced prostitution -- but there's no evidence, Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon, 30 January
  • FactChecker: Super Bowl Sex Trafficking and Other Myths, Joe Carter, The Gospel Coalition, 30 January
  • Just in Time for February, the Myth of Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl Returns, Anna Merlan, The Village Voice, 30 January
  • The Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking, Kate Mogulescu, The New York Times, 31 January
  • Debunking The Urban Legend of Super Bowl Sex Trafficking, Daily Kos, 01 February
  • Do Sex Traffickers Really Target the Super Bowl?, Mother Jones, 01 February
  • The Myths Surrounding Sex Work and the Super Bowl, Women with a Vision, 02 February
  • Breaking the Super Bowl-Sex Trafficking Link, Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC, 02 February
  • The Reality of Trafficking at the Super Bowl, Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC, 02 February

There are several major sporting events this year in addition to this Sunday’s events in New Jersey: the winter Olympics start soon (7-23 February, Sochi, Russia), then we’ve got the World Cup (12 June to 13 July, Rio, Brazil) and the Commonwealth Games (23 July to 3 August, Glasgow, UK). We hope that we will see a more informed approach to human and labour rights abuses in the lead up to and at these events instead of a reliance on myths, and that anti-trafficking efforts will be based on evidence, not sensationalism and ideology.

GAATW-IS, 1 February 2014

(updated 3 February 2014)