How are Human Trafficking and ‘The Big Game’ connected?

MIAMI— When it comes to determining the most likely places where sex trafficking occurs, Lisa Thompson minces no words.

“Let’s face it. No one is sex trafficking anyone at Mary Kay Conventions,” Thompson said.

And she would know. As vice president of policy and research for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), Thompson has done her homework on how the ‘Big Game’ scores high in human trafficking.

“To be clear, the Super Bowl does not cause sex trafficking,” Thompson said. “But does the influx of demand from potential male buyers associated with the Super Bowl correlate with trafficking at the Super Bowl? Sadly, yes.”

And this year’s event is set for Sunday, February 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. But data shows that the threat for human trafficking doesn’t change with a new venue. According to the Human trafficking Hotline, Florida ranks third in the United States in human trafficking cases reported by states, behind only California and Texas.

During last year’s ‘Big Game’ on February 3 in Atlanta, Georgia, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported 169 sex-trafficking related arrests in Atlanta over 11 days leading up to the game. In Minneapolis, Minnesota during the 2018 ‘Big Game,’ 94 pimps were arrested and charged in a human trafficking sting led by the Minneapolis Police Department and 23 other law enforcement agencies.

This begs the question, how exactly are Human Trafficking and the ‘Big Game’ connected?

According to Purchased Las Vegas director, Brittany Payne, it’s not so much about the ‘Big Game’ as it is about a big event.

“Sex traffickers are attracted to any event or location where they have an opportunity to make money,” said Payne. “Traffickers will be both trafficking their victims to Super Bowl attendees and visitors, as well as looking for vulnerable people to be their future victims.”

A 2018 NCOSE study shared their findings that the Super Bowl, or any large event which provides a significant concentration of people, is a desirable location for a trafficker to bring victims for commercial sexual exploitation.

“I think the saddest thing I have found is that selling people for commercial sex acts is more profitable and less risky for traffickers than selling drugs,” Payne said. “The demand for commercial sex is so high and, in some cases, socially acceptable. For instance, the “what happens here stays here” mentality means millions of visitors and event attendees think they can come and get whatever they want, legal or otherwise, without any consequences.”

It’s all about laissez-faire entertainment netting traffickers $150 billion in the trafficking industry.

But FBI victim specialist, Lauren Schmitz with FBI Minneapolis said the ‘Big Game’ could bring an awareness to trafficking that happens 365 days a year.

“Trafficking happens every day of the year,” said Schmitz. “The range of trafficking victims that I’ve worked with have been from age 13 and up. The end goal is to really assist that victim with getting out of the life and getting the services that they need to do that. So I really do believe that the Super Bowl is great in that it brings awareness to this issue.”

Payne explains what attendees can keep an eye out for when searching for signs of human trafficking at a large event such as the ‘Big Game.’

“Typically what we see is one trafficker, or a pimp, will have several women or girls who he is keeping an eye on,” Payne said. “He may be at a distance while the woman is out and standing alone in an area where she can talk to men. Being more scantily dressed can definitely be an indicator; however, we have seen trafficking victims wearing jeans and a T-shirt or even being fully bundled up in warm clothes.”

To discover more about what human trafficking looks like, visit the following supporting agency websites: the Polaris ProjectThe Baptist Friendship House and In Our Backyard.

See something? Say something! Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or report suspicious activity to law enforcement by calling 911.

Josie Rabbitt Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published November 19, 2019