Kathryn DeHoyos worries the fight to end human trafficking may be damaged by the revelations made in a New York Times Op-Ed this week.
The New York Times ran an Op-Ed yesterday titled, “The Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking,” in which the author points out the lack of data to substantiate the claims that, “the event will cause a surge in sex trafficking to capitalize on the influx of fans and tourists.” Being one of the masses who has heard this over and over and believed it, I was caught off-balance by these revelations:
No data actually support the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a network of nongovernmental organizations, published a report in 2011 examining the record on sex trafficking related to World Cup soccer games, the Olympics and the Super Bowl. It found that, “despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.”
Even with this lack of evidence, the myth has taken hold through sheer force of repetition, playing on desires to rescue trafficking victims and appear tough on crime. Whether the game is in Dallas, Indianapolis or New Orleans, the pattern is the same: Each Super Bowl host state forms a trafficking task force to “respond” to the issue; the task force issues a foreboding statement; the National Football League pledges to work with local law enforcement to address trafficking; and news conference after news conference is held. The actual number of traffickers investigated or prosecuted hovers around zero.
So I decided to ask GMP’s resident human trafficking expert Cameron Conaway if this could possibly be true. He says:
Unfortunately there’s not much substantial evidence behind these claims, except for the thousands of NGO workers on the ground who see when there are huge sporting events where men travel quite far, are staying in hotels, are drinking huge amounts of alcohol, that other men (and women) are making bank by rounding up as many prostitutes as possible (including trafficked/forced prostitutes) to meet the demand. I think in 5-10 years the research will finally catch up. For now, it seems advocates are using this huge event to raise awareness. Can’t complain about that tactic. Our culture cares more about sport/celebrity than reality…and unfortunately the way to reclaim the awareness of reality is often to piggyback off the former.
That makes sense, right? But it is concerning as well. Here you have the NY Times saying “show me the numbers,” but there are no concrete numbers to show—yet. And if the people on the ground, the people who SEE and KNOW these statements are true can’t present numbers to back up their claims, will people eventually stop listening? Will society eventually become numb to the cry of the anti-trafficking movement in the same way they have seemed to become numb to so many other issues that still need our attention?
While the Times article never actually minimizes the importance of cracking down on human—and in this case specifically sex—trafficking, it feels a bit like they are trying to do away with some of the moral guilt that people seem to be feeling about liking football and supporting the Super Bowl these days. But are they doing more harm than good by highlighting the lack of empirical data to back up what seems, to me at least, to be common sense? Have we become so dependent on statistics and numbers that we are unwilling to acknowledge something is truly a problem until there are numbers on paper to “prove it?”
For me, I think I’m going to continue to believe the men and women on the ground. The warriors who fight every day to end the plague of human trafficking and enslavement. The people in the trenches, who know and see—without the need for hard evidence—that the rise in sex trafficking surrounding huge sporting events is anything but rhetoric.
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Photo: AP/Charlie Riedel