Super Bowl 53, sex, and safety: Facts and myths about sex trafficking

Sherri Jefferson is an advocate, author, and an attorney. Transforming the lives of children is her passion. Transferring knowledge is her profession.

As America celebrated Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, many converged upon the city seeking more than football. Known as the hub of sex trafficking, sex work, and prostitution, Atlanta played host to thousands of people in what many anti-sex trafficking organizations call a weekend of victimization.
As an advocate for JUSTUS [Juvenile Urban Sex Trafficking in the United States] and #FemaleNOTFeemale, we advocate for victims of sex trafficking. Our advocacy requires a truthful and provoking examination of facts versus fiction. Often swayed by the sad truths faced by victims of sex trafficking, it is easy to miss the mark when identifying victims and their victimization.
Often, issues of sex trafficking, prostitution, domestic violence, and sexual abuse intersect. These intersections cause people to misapply the meaning of sex trafficking and engage in misidentification. Misidentification causes problems for actual victims whom many see as willing participants.
A key component to sex trafficking is the element of forced sexual exploitation and servitude. Victims are forced to perform sexual acts with or without profits. Victimization includes use of drugs, violence. and mental, emotional, or psychological abuse to control the victims performance. Victims of sex trafficking do not have to be “transported or kidnapped” from one area to the another. A victim can be forced into sexual exploitation and servitude from the confines of their own home, school, or community. Victimization can include gang affiliations or criminal activity other than or in addition to sex.
Compare prostitution or sex work and the key component is ‘consent.’ Persons involved in prostitution and sex work consent to exchange sex for profit. Whether pimped, escorted, or self-employed, these persons are knowing and willing participants.
Now, let us examine what generally happens during the Super Bowl. During the Super Bowl there exist a lot of hype about sex-trafficking. Yes, there are many victims of sex-trafficking. Even one victim is too many. However, research does not prove that sex-trafficking is more prevalent during the Super Bowl weekend than any other time of year. Rather, prostitution and drug rings increases.
Through #FemaleNOTFeemale Power of the Ps, we look at pimps, panders, prostitutes, purchasers, and profiteers who converge upon Super Bowl host cities seeking to make money. The street economics of sex work and prostitution proves profitable during any convention or event that draws tens of thousands of people to one place.
After years of research, I found no data that supports that Super Bowl weekend draws more victims of sex trafficking [operative term] than any other event. We often confuse victims with persons providing consensual sex services.
According to UPI, the January 31, 2019 announcement by the FBI and Homeland Security investigation ahead of Super Bowl 53, resulted in the arrest of 33 people for sex-trafficking. Respectfully, however, the arrests are for persons engaged in prostitution rings, but how many were actual victims of sex-trafficking?
Again, prostitution and sex-trafficking are two distinctively different legal and factual issues. Reviewing data from 1993 to 2017, research revealed that Atlanta did not have an increase in documented sex-trafficking or prostitution during its host of the Super Bowl. In 1998, San Diego did not document an increase in sex-trafficking or prostitution and found that the same number of people were arrested during those periods than normal.
During the 2008 Super Bowl, Phoenix implemented a task force to seek, find, detain, and protect victims of sex trafficking and arrest those responsible for trafficking. Their data revealed no change in the numbers from their normal arrest for prostitution. During the 2011 Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas less than 15 out-of-area persons were arrested for sex work, none identified as sex-trafficking victims. The city also arrested about 35 residents for prostitution, but none identified as victims or were screened to be victims of sex-trafficking.
In January 2014, the New York Times reported that days before the Super Bowl authorities in New York and New Jersey were cracking down on sex-trafficking. However, only 18 people were arrested for allegedly running a “prostitution and drug trafficking ring” targeting ‘high-end clientele’ visiting for the big game. New York Police Department reported that arrests were up 30 percent, and many were using websites like backpage.com and Craigslist to find sex for profit services.
With the recent removal of backpage and Craigslist, those avenues are no longer available, but there are some websites soliciting sex for profit. Many willing participants are using social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, Yellow App, and Twitter.
In 2017, a record 750 people were arrested as “suspects in Super Bowl sex-trafficking stings.” According to Reuters, more than 100 arrest were made in Houston, Texas where the NFL hosted the Super Bowl. However, the nationwide sweep arrested “29 pimps and 723 arrested for buying sex across 15 states” of which six minor children and 86 adults were recused as part of the three-week operation.
Any victim of sex trafficking is one too many, but there exists no evidence that the Super Bowl is the sole precursor for an increase in sex trafficking.
Respectfully, it appears that the interplay on words – sex-trafficking and prostitution – are cause for this myth. To this end, we must educate and inform the public about signs of sex trafficking so that they know how to identify victims and understand victimization. With all these NGOs and nonprofits seeking donations to help fight sex trafficking during the Super Bowl, be wary of how you donate your money!
Most signs of sex-trafficking are common. Things you can do to help identify a victim.
Observe behavior of a child or young adult in the presence of an adult who may not be a relative or parent. Do they exhibit fear, anxiety, depression, nervousness, or submissiveness? Do they exhibit signs of any form of abuse? What type of clothing do they wear? What type of car does the person drive? Do they lack self control of his or her finances or possessions – including their own identification or school ID?
Look for body artwork and hair coloring (silver, red, blue, green, or yellow), look at the colors of garments, clothing items, backpacks, pocketbooks). Have you observed activity at a home in your community where there are a lot of visitors? Does the person refer to someone as a relative and there is no relation – that may raise a flag? Noticed anyone employed by a retailer who uses or takes down credit card information? Anyone working at a hotel who provides discounted rates to a selected group of people?
Under federal law, any person under the age of 18 who is engaged in sexual activity for profit is considered a victim of sex-trafficking and therefore, this group cannot consent to sex for profit. In recent years, according to the FBI, African-American girls under the age of 18 represented 61 percent of the girls arrested for juvenile prostitution – nationwide. However, these girls are victims of sex trafficking, but law enforcement does not conduct field assessment test when they come upon these victims. Therefore, it is after arrest that their victimization is documented. African-American girls represent more than 40 percent of all girls trafficked in the United States, according to data provided by Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficked Incidents.
African-Americans as a race only represent 14 percent of the total United States population. These numbers do not represent the many girls arrested for sex trafficking related offenses, which includes the school to prison pipeline (truancy, allegations of disrupting the public schools, fighting and battery, runaways, theft, burglary, and gang related activities). Black girls sale like black tar [heroin] and black diamonds [cocaine]! Protect this vulnerable population. Most of the buyers are white men.
Many victims are in plain sight! However, you will not find most of them at any Super Bowl. Therefore, our resources must be expended to address these daily plights.

If you witness trafficking call 911, National Hotline 1-888-373-7888 or Georgia hotline 1-844-842-3678 and visit www.FemaleNOTFeemale.com for more information.

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