Spotlight: Human Trafficking and the Super Bowl

WHAT’S THE DEAL?

For the past few years, we’ve released this article explaining the link between the largest sporting event in the United States and human trafficking. But, does the Super Bowl actually increase human trafficking in the host city? The true answer is this – it’s hard to say. Unfortunately, human trafficking is an issue in every country, in every region, including the United States. It happens every day and millions are trapped in the dark reality of exploitation and abuse. However, in recent years, awareness of this issue has increased and the general public has decidedly taken a stand against human trafficking of all sorts. 

So where did the Super Bowl / Human Trafficking theory originate? It really comes down to basic numbers – where there are people the possibility of crime and trafficking increases. As the Super Bowl draws thousands of people to one location, this holds true. Traffickers (and other criminals, for that matter) see that these events increase the number of potential victims and potential buyers. Therefore, the Super Bowl, along with every other major sporting event, has the possibility of becoming a hotspot for human trafficking. 

There is a bright side to this all – with the increased awareness and action taken, trafficking is actually being defeated every day. Even at the Super Bowl! Recently, more and more news and media outlets are sharing that the increase in trafficking around the Super Bowl may be a myth. This could actually be good news! It’s possible – even likely – that the increased awareness and local action that is taken to prevent trafficking are changing the narrative. 

All this to say, 2024’s Super Bowl city provides unique challenges to this claim due to Nevada’s specific legislature around sex work and what that means for a large scale event to be hosted there.

We applaud local agencies and the other organizations that come alongside to shed a light on the issue of trafficking during times when it could be more prevalent. Again, human trafficking happens every day in every area of the world. And when more people gather in one area, the risk does, in fact, increase. At the end of the day, this is a dark industry that will take advantage of a large population of “supply” (aka victims) and demand (aka buyers). Even as more and more media outlets “debunk” human trafficking as a myth, let us stay vigilant in the fight against trafficking every single day, including during high-profile events.

This year: Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, NV

Other than the prominence of Taylor Swift’s attendance at the game, what makes Super Bowl LVIII different? Keep reading to find out!

While the general link between human trafficking and Super Bowl host cities has become more speculative, Las Vegas may provide an exception to this conclusion. As one of the largest tourism cities in the country, Las Vegas has a reputation best described with the common phrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” that implies a loophole to ethical choices and behaviors. But most importantly, the state of Nevada’s legalization of Sex Work and change in legislation around the criminalization of both sex buyers and sellers provides the most concern for increased trafficking incidents.

With over 620,000 cases, Nevada is the third-highest-ranking state in the U.S. for instances of Human Trafficking.1 At the daylong Nevada Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Summit held in February of 2023, Reno attorney Jason Guinasso shared, “We’ve put out a sign in the state of Nevada that anything goes here. And we put that sign up and we put neon lights on it and said ‘Come here,’ but I think it’s time to turn those lights off and express to those on the outside that we’re no longer going to nurture that kind of economy here, an economy where there’s a lot of complicit folks.” 2

The event highlighted three areas of concern for an increase in trafficking at the 2024 Super Bowl:

  • Sexual predators are expected at the Super Bowl in Las Vegas – As formerly mentioned, the potential for customers and demand will be increased.
  • Nevada law lets sex buyers seal convictions – Misdemeanors can now be sealed after one year, and a first-time offense of buying sex is a misdemeanor.
  • Nevada law makes it harder to convict traffickers – Capt. Noel Roberts of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said sex trafficking in Nevada is a victim crime, meaning victims must come forward to say they were coerced. This is a challenge because many traffickers are “Romeo pimps,” Roberts said, who get their victims to fall in love with them, which makes it less likely they will testify against the person exploiting them.

Many precautionary efforts are being taken to mitigate instances of trafficking and protect potential victims, including working with local organizations such as Signs of Hope.3 Myisha Boyce, Chief Community Engagement Officer for the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee, shared that, “No one knows Vegas better than those of us who form community here, and the host committee took it upon ourselves to make the recommendation for a local representative that really understood what this community needs.” A lot of the precautionary efforts include raising awareness within the local community and visitors as well as working with local law enforcement to identify areas of concern and vulnerability.

WHAT CAN I DO?

So what can we do to address the larger year-round, nationwide, and even GLOBAL issue of sex trafficking? 

  1. Increase our awareness and knowledge of the issue so we can keep our eyes open and help end criminal activity. 
  2. Pray. Prayer is such a powerful way to combat trafficking and it accomplishes more than we think! We have a big God that cares about justice for the oppressed and freedom for the captives. As AIM CEO, Clayton Butler says, “God cares way more about ending trafficking than I ever could.” Let’s share in the heart of Christ and pray for this evil to end. 
  3. Give what you can! Find the organizations that are doing the work to end trafficking and support them in whatever way you can. It will take all of us coming together to defeat this evil. We can’t do this work alone! 

Here are resources and ways you can get help combat trafficking in your community:

  • We’ve gathered some great information about understanding human trafficking and its local impact.
  • Make awareness part of Game Day and donate your guess of what the final score will be to an anti-trafficking organization, then challenge your friends to do the same!
  • Learn how you can be a part of this fight.
  • Report suspected incidents of trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. This hotline is not only to report suspected trafficking but to provide help if you are or have been a human trafficking victim.

THE SUPER BOWL & TRAFFICKING THROUGHOUT THE YEARS:

Glendale, Arizona was home to Superbowl LVII in 2023. Back in September of 2022, the city was already addressing the possibility of trafficking incidents surrounding the big game. The local police worked with other agencies to find traffickers coming into Arizona leading up to February 12th.

The Phoenix Police Department released a report on February 20th that multiple agencies across the valley made 48 felony and 300 misdemeanor arrests during a crackdown on sex trafficking. Police said five minors and one adult victim were removed from crime scenes but could not confirm if the Arizona Department of Child Safety took them into care. They did not comment when asked how they differentiate between “sex workers” and “sex victims.”4

In 2022, Los Angeles, California hosted Super Bowl LVI. Outside of this time, California reports the highest number of human trafficking cases per year out of any state. Ubers in the city displayed the human trafficking hotline, LAX posted signs that help people identify and report trafficking, while some flights into LA showed videos that highlight the issue. Additionally, other organizations joined to spread awareness throughout the city. During Super Bowl week, 500 prostitution-related arrests were made in Southern California resulting in the rescue of dozens of survivors.

Tampa, Florida hosted the Super Bowl in 2021, and many agencies, including the local police department and It’s A Penalty, were in high gear for the weeks leading up to the event. In the 2 months leading prior, officials arrested 71 men on prostitution-related charges. The weekend of the big game, 75 people were arrested in an investigation officials called, “Operation Game Over”. 3 of these faced human trafficking charges. 6 survivors were rescued during this operation.

The 2020 Super Bowl was held in Miami, Florida on February 2nd. The 49ers faced off against the Chiefs as law enforcement and human rights advocates faced off against traffickers and their cruel intentions. Florida is the 3rd highest-ranking human trafficking state in the country. Surrounding the Super Bowl, 47 traffickers were arrested and 22 women and girls were rescued.

In Atlanta, Georgia, the 2019 Super Bowl was preceded by the arrest of 169 traffickers. The anti-trafficking efforts spurred an influx in attention around the issue of trafficking, especially surrounding big sporting events.

ABOUT AIM

Agape International Missions (AIM) was founded on the ground in Cambodia in 1988 as a humanitarian aid and church planting organization. Since 2005, our ministries have focused on ending the evil of child sexual slavery.

AIM is doing whatever it takes to end the evil of human trafficking. We believe in freedom at all costs. That means, we not only rescue individuals from trafficking, but we walk with them through healing and empower them in their new lives of freedom. Additionally, we work to prevent future exploitation by confronting the demand for purchased sex and protecting the vulnerable.

AIM has a US Headquarters in California with administrative staff and local, in-country staff for our programs.

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REFERENCES

1 ^ World Population Review, 2024

2 ^ Mark Robison, “Sex Preditors Expected for 2024 Super Bowl in Las Vegas” Reno Gazette Journal, 2023

3 ^ Brock Radke, “BOOSTING HOPE: A HUMAN TRAFFICKING RELIEF ORGANIZATION IS AMONG LOCAL GROUPS RECEIVING ASSISTANCE FROM THE SUPER BOWL” Las Vegas Weekly, 2024

4 ^ Miguel Torres, “Sex trafficking sting operation in Arizona during Super Bowl leads to multiple arrests” AzCentral, 2023

5 ^ Rick Jervis, “Child sex rings spike during Super Bowl week” USA TODAY (2011)

6a ^Super Bowl is Single-Largest Magnet for Sex Trafficking Child Prostitution in US” News5Cleveland (2013)
6b ^Super Bowl is Single-Largest Magnet for Sex Trafficking Child Prostitution in US” News5Cleveland (2013)

7 ^ See also: Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, speaking to the House Victims’ Rights Caucus Human Trafficking Caucus, Cong. Rec., 111th Cong., 2nd sess., 2010.

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