This year’s Super Bowl will be hosted in Tampa Bay. Wings, nachos, and assorted goodies are always associated with the big game. Even casual football fans host get-togethers for a football-themed party. But the Super Bowl also brings an insidious element to the city hosting it. Sex trafficking.

Recent news reports strongly point to the Super Bowl as being the most prominent national event for sex trafficking. There are estimates that as many as 10,000 victims are being trafficked in the host city to be offered to willing purchasers intent on buying sex.

The business of sex trafficking is alive all year, to be sure, and not just for the one week of the Super Bowl. According to the UN-led International Labor Organization (ILO), the sex trafficking industry has affected more than 40 million people globally. An ILO report from a few years ago stated that human trafficking earns a profit of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers with 66 percent of the global profits coming from sexual exploitation. According to the organization, sex trafficking is second only to illegal drug trafficking as the world’s largest criminal enterprise.

The Super Bowl, like any large public event that attracts large numbers of people in a relatively concentrated urban area, becomes a beacon for sex traffickers to bring their victims for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.

According to a piece by the McCain Institute at Arizona State University, the sheer volume of ads offering commercial sex will likely exceed the capacity of any one law enforcement agency to respond in such a way as to discourage traffickers from coming to its jurisdiction.

However, leading up to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office launched “Operation Interception,” a sex trafficking and prostitution sting, and announced prostitution charges against 71 people.

“Like any major sporting event, the Super Bowl should not be a venue where these types of crimes occur on the sidelines, whether it’s before, during, or after the game,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said.

Two years ago, 94 people were arrested in Minneapolis prior to Super Bowl LIII. Similar efforts in Miami last year were deemed “a success” by the authorities. 

While the public perception of prostitution is of a single person working alone on city streets, making a choice to engage in illegal behavior, the facts are that a vast majority of those involved are being used against their will. And trafficking networks have significantly increased their use of ads showcasing victims to lure in those looking for commercial sex. 

The McCain Institute Study found that more than 74 percent of all such ads reviewed in New York/New Jersey in the week leading up to the 2014 Super Bowl were found to be connected to at least one other ad or victim. One particular ad was tied to 11 distinct ads/victims. Each of these ads was followed online from a point of origin (another state) towards the ultimate destination of the Super Bowl.

This is an issue SOFREP has shone a light on in the past. George Hand wrote several articles on the subject; you can read one piece here and its follow-up here. Geo worked for an anti-sex trafficking organization in the Southwest U.S. and aided another organization that was just getting off the ground in the Northeast. 

What makes sex trafficking so hard to nail down is its very nature. It’s not the Super Bowl per se that causes sex trafficking to flourish; rather, it creates the conditions. The traffickers themselves are simply reacting to a large influx of people into a large urban area for a specific event. Sex trafficking is by its nature nomadic.

Without a national database or training for law enforcement personnel, the trafficking intelligence gained from local law enforcement isn’t shared among their peers. That’s why the independent anti-sex trafficking organizations, which are now operating in different parts of the country, are doing so with, at least, tacit support from law enforcement. The responsible departments simply don’t have enough people to handle the amount of background work needed to track down and stop the sex trafficking networks. 

Law enforcement personnel have become proactive at teaching members of the legitimate hospitality industry, such as hotel and restaurant staff, etc. to be able to recognize and report any signs of suspicious behavior or activity. But much remains to be done.

Sex trafficking is a world problem that needs to be eradicated.

This article was originally published on January 29. 

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