The Super Bowl 50: a celebration of fifty years of the NFL’s largest and loudest sporting spectacle. Hosted in the San Francisco Bay Area in February 2016, the famous hub of commerce and innovation fell victim to a parasitic wave of crime that plagues the football game every year. Human trafficking, particularly of enslaved sex workers, peaked around the famous kickoff as it does every year, everywhere the Super Bowl goes.
Breaking world records, the Super Bowl 50 this year was the third most watched program in television history. Surpassed only by two previous Super Bowl shows, the internationally broadcasted event dwarfs all others in audience statistics. The colossal viewing figures of the Super Bowl 50 speak to the scale of the issue at hand: the greater the viewing base, the greater the customer base for illegal activity. Traffickers and pimps alike capitalise upon this trend, using the Super Bowl as a prime business opportunity in which the potential for moneymaking is vast, bringing in fast cash over a brief period of time.
San Francisco’s City Hall decorated for the Super Bowl 50
Masquerading as massage parlours, nail salons and other small-business ventures, hundreds of fully operational brothels fly under the radar of both law enforcement and civilians every day. Storefronts in many of the Bay Area’s cities in broad daylight conceal active prostitution rings, often holding captive or coercing their workers. However, the greatest portion of the sex-for-hire and other related crimes that occur around the Super Bowl are facilitated by the Internet, which gives non-locals arriving to watch the game an easy and convenient way to solicit a prostitute. Viewers unfamiliar to a certain area such as San Francisco, for example, need only respond to an online advert for escorts (or other, similar online promotions) and be easily directed to a prostitute that, in many cases, has fallen victim to pimps or traffickers. The virtual origins of these crimes foster an environment in which the dark underbelly of the sex industry is easily concealed from law enforcement, and yet nicely packaged for visiting fans.
The Super Bowl has a direct, immense effect on this issue. The raucous, fanatical nature of the internationally celebrated event beckons a party-fuelled series of days leading up to the big game, flooding host cities with fans looking for a good time. The NFL rakes in immense profit through the marketing, social media presence and sporting acclaim of the Super Bowl, making tickets highly sought after and extremely expensive. As a result, many of the audience members that arrive in host cities for the final game are long on cash and short on inhibition.
A San Francisco strip club, many of which are used as fronts for the illegal sex industry, by Thomas Hawk
The anti-trafficking organisation In Our Backyard estimates that the increase in online adverts for escorts immediately before the Super Bowl is anywhere between 30 to 300 percent. The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children records 133 arrests for involvement with underage sex workers in Dallas during their hosting period for the Super Bowl in 2011. The International Labour Organisation approximates the number of global human trafficking victims at 20.9 million, with 55% of those victims as female and 26% as underage. These harrowing statistics show the harm in dismissing human trafficking, as often happens in the public mentality, as a crime that happens in the dark alleys and red light districts of the world. Trafficking isn’t restricted to the underworld of a city; it occurs in broad daylight, in any neighbourhood, to people very similar to us. The primary goal of human traffickers - and like-minded criminals involved in the illegal sex industry - is to remain out of sight and out of mind. The director of In Our Backyard addresses the harm of an apathetic attitude towards the growing problem by urging people to raise awareness and stressing the closeness of the issue to us all, stating: “All the traffickers ask is that we be quiet, and even better, that we pretend it doesn’t happen here or it can’t happen to somebody we love. So we need to combat those things by talking about it, by learning more about it, and by understanding that it can happen in our circle.” So, whilst the Super Bowl prompts a sharp peak each year in the United States’ sex trafficking industry, it is important to remember that this is not a fleeting issue. The enslavement, forced labour and sexual exploitation of adults and minors occurs every day around the globe, and is anything but a new problem.
The first and crucial step in battling human trafficking is raising awareness and educating relevant parties on how to remain attentive. For example, the FBI, alongside other government agencies, works with anti-trafficking organisations to spread information in the hotel industry on signs to recognise potential trafficking victims. Closer to home, the on-campus organisation St Andrews Against Slavery “aims to bring attention to the issue of modern day slavery which is more prevalent now than any other time in history with 36 million slaves worldwide.” The scale of the issue is vast, but law enforcement officers and civilian activists make a powerful combination. Anyone can take a stand against human trafficking, and anyone can be vigilant.
To learn more and find out what you can do to help, click here to see a list of organisations that combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation.