A Dark Reality of the Super Bowl

WHAT’S THE DEAL?

Every year around mid-January, there seems to be a flood of media attention surrounding sex trafficking at the Super Bowl. As one of the largest sporting events on earth, it attracts tens of thousands of men into cities, and there’s no denying that many of them are willing to pay for sex as part of their big entertainment experience. The numbers released by many local agencies in cities where the Super Bowl has been held are proof enough.

Over the years, host cities have begun to ramp up efforts to fight trafficking in the weeks leading up to the big game. We applaud local agencies and the other organizations that come alongside to shed a light on the tragedy that occurs to many during this time. Although the Super Bowl is an exciting and fun way to come together with family and friends, we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality of the impact that these large sporting have to victims and those at-risk of trafficking.

PRECAUTIONS TAKEN THIS YEAR: Los Angeles, California

Super Bowl LVI is set to be hosted in Los Angeles, California in February of 2022. The large state of California consistently reports the highest number of human trafficking cases per year. Compared to other states, taking population into account, they rank 7th in the country – with about 3.8 cases per 100,000 people[1]. This, of course is only based on reported cases. We know that this dark industry affects far more than what is reported.

“It is unacceptable that on any given day in our city that at least 10,000 people are being trafficked here in Los Angeles.”

Nury Martinez; L.A. City Council President

So, with the Super Bowl coming up, and the inevitable influx of illicit activity, local officials and organizations are taking a stand to prevent trafficking and encourage the city to be on the look out. Ubers in the city will have the human trafficking hotline displayed, LAX will display signs that help people identify and report trafficking, while some flights into LA will show videos that highlight the issue. This is all in a combined effort with It’s A Penalty to catch traffickers and rescue victims during this enormous weekend. It’s A Penalty works to prevent trafficking worldwide through collaboration with athletes and the travel/tourism industry. In addition to the efforts listed above, It’s A Penalty is providing training to many hotel staff in the area to identify and report trafficking. These partnerships are vital in preventing trafficking and rescuing victims.

BUT IT’S BIGGER THAN JUST THE SUPER BOWL…

When his state was gearing up to host the Super Bowl in 2011, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was the state’s Attorney General at the time, told USA Today, “The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly… It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”[3] But while Super Bowl stings like the National John Suppression Initiative can make a big difference in a short amount of time, many advocates point out that they’re not enough. Sex trafficking is an issue in all 50 states, and it’s a year-round problem. Others add that the Super Bowl is not necessarily the source of the sex trafficking problem, it is simply an event that brings it all together into one concentrated place.

Stephanie Kilper of Operation Freedom Taskforce in Akron, Ohio — an organization which aims to end human trafficking – said, “It’s not so much that you become a victim at the Super Bowl, but that many victims are brought in to be used for all the men at the Super Bowl.”[3a] And in 2011, Ernie Allen, the president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children supported this notion. He stated that each year, 100,000 to 300,000 American kids, some as young as 12 years old, are exploited in the sex trade, and at the Super Bowl, “The traffickers try to seize that opportunity to do business.”[4]

WHAT CAN I DO?

So what can we do to address the larger year-round, nationwide, and even GLOBAL issue of sex trafficking? The first and best step is to increase our awareness and knowledge of the issue so we can keep our eyes open and help end the criminal activity. Then, as Kilper says, “… pray and give. Prayer is such a powerful way to combat trafficking. It accomplishes more than one might think. And give. Give to the organizations that are fighting human trafficking. They have the ability to go in and save these men, women, and children. But they need the funds to keep their organizations going.”[3b]

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

  • Learn about the issue – We’ve gathered some great information about understanding human trafficking and its local impact.
  • Raise awareness – 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!
  • How to stop human trafficking – learn how you can be a part of this fight.
  • Report suspected incidents of trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 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:

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 are 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 on 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.

Want to hear more stories of freedom?

Sign up for our newsletter!

REFERENCES

1 ^ World Population Review, 2021

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

3a ^Super Bowl is Single-Largest Magnet for Sex Trafficking Child Prostitution in US” News5Cleveland (2013)
3b ^Super Bowl is Single-Largest Magnet for Sex Trafficking Child Prostitution in US” News5Cleveland (2013)

4 ^ 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.