The Super Bowl Prostitution Myth

Super Bowl 49Every year I see at least a few people claiming as a matter of fact that the Super Bowl is the worst day/event of the year for sex trafficking by a wide margin. It’s a logical claim. It is the most stereotypically-manly day of the year. A lot of men travel to the Super Bowl without their significant others. Plus these men have to be pretty wealthy to have Super Bowl tickets and willing to use that wealth for short-term good experiences, so it makes sense they would use it for prostitution as well. Put it all together and you get wealthy high-on-testosterone men without their significant others looking for other “manly” things to do, which apparently having sex with a slave qualifies as. In theory, it is the perfect storm for increased prostitution, including those who were trafficked.

The problem is that it simply isn’t true. Or more accurately, there is zero evidence that sex trafficking or even prostitution in general increases for the Super Bowl. Snopes says this:

The facts don’t conform to the hypothesis. While prostitution may take place in Super Bowl host cities during the week of the Big Game, that vice exists in those locales at other times too, and data confirming the presence of thousands, tens of thousands, or maybe even one hundred thousand or more freshly-arrived ladies of the evening in the Super Bowl host city is lacking. Nor is there substantive evidence that large numbers of sex workers are involuntarily trafficked to the area of that event.

This can actually be a bigger problem than simply spreading false information because it can become a scapegoat. A lot of people who care about trafficked women but don’t necessarily do a lot about it can easily use this as a way to feel good about themselves. Some may boycott the Super Bowl for one day and then be content doing nothing the rest of the year.

The myth seems to have started with a politician, and I wonder if it was a move to score some political points for standing up to sex trafficking, even if it didn’t really make any more of a difference than cracking down on any other day.

There’s also the matter of distribution of resources. To pull police officers away from vacation time, when they’re already strained for other potentials like riots after the game (NFL fans don’t seem to riot as much as NHL or college sports), means you’re spending more money. That money could have been distributed for a more consistent effort throughout the year.

Snopes says it this way:

To be clear, sex trafficking is a legitimate issue outside of the convenient Super Bowl news bubble. But again, there’s no evidence that a mass influx of sports fans increases the problem or contributes to it in some way. Ultimately, spreading misinformation can end up undercutting efforts to bring awareness to the very real problem of sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Focusing only on the Super Bowl and quick fixes like ramped up police patrol, doesn’t address the bigger, ongoing problem of sex exploitation.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.