A widely touted myth shrouding the Super Bowl every year is that there is a significant increase in human trafficking in the big game’s host city. The truth remains that there are no definitive statistics about how much of an increase there is in prostitution over Super Bowl weekends. While it is assumed some escorts travel to the area to capitalize on the influx of visitors, the true trafficking numbers remain unknown.

As countless news media outlets pick up the story every year, the numbers offered are misleading. Arrest numbers are actually collected during a multiple-week initiative that involves a national coalition of law enforcement agencies in cities throughout the country, and not just the Super Bowl’s host city. The uniqueness of this vast initiative is that there is no other such collaborative effort done other months of the year, so when the staggering arrest numbers are released, there is no way to determine how much of an increase actually occurred.

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a network of nongovernmental organizations, published a report in 2011 examining the record on sex trafficking related to the Super Bowl, World Cup soccer games and the Olympics. The findings supported the fact that, ”Despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.”

In 2017, after Super Bowl LI in Houston, it was released the 522 would-be sex buyers or sex traffickers were arrested. Again, these arrests were not confined to just the Houston area. Labeled the National Johns Suppression initiative, the three-week-long sting operation involved 23 law enforcement agencies in 14 states. In Houston, 183 potential sex buyers, and 9 sex traffickers were arrested.

A two-part study, backed by the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU, focused on the 2014 and 2015 markets in Northern New Jersey and Phoenix, sites of the Super Bowl games in those years. The project is considered to be the only academic research focusing on the sex-for-sale trends in Super Bowl cities.

Data was collected from both cities, both years. Key findings included:

  • There was no significant increase in online escort ads on game day, and the volume of ads in each city rose year over year, supporting the theory that prostitution is gaining as a whole.

  • The daily number of ads selling sex in northern New Jersey increased by 58 percent during the 10-day time frame from 2014 to 2015, and by 30 percent in Phoenix during the same period.

  • Of the 95 percent of posts identified as promoting prostitution in Phoenix, 65 percent indicated a high risk of sex trafficking and 1.8 percent indicated a potential minor.

  • Area codes indicated that 70.1 percent of Phoenix’s potential buyers were local.

  • Area codes indicated that 75.5% of percent in Northern New Jersey/New York.

During the research, both years, in both cities, there were a total of 73 ads that were flagged as high risk for being a sex trafficked minor. Key facts about these 73 ads include:

  • More than half (54.8%) of the phone number area codes were from the local area of the ad placed.

  • Forty-­five (61.6%) of the flagged ads were linked to multiple phone numbers ranging from 1 other number to 11 other numbers, with an average of 2.11.

  • Thirty­-two (43.8%) of the flagged ads were linked to other girls or women (or in one case, a young male), ranging from one to seven other people with an average of 2.

  • Thirty-­nine (53.4%) of the flagged ads had previously been in other cities prior to the study.

  • Twenty-­eight (38.4%) of the ads flagged as a potential minor had been in another state.

Any awareness brought to the topic of human trafficking is a good thing, however most local law enforcement agencies fail to properly address the problem outside of when these pre-Super Bowl, headline-grabbing stings occur. The epidemic of human trafficking flourishes 365 days per year. Further, most local governments lack in how to deal with those who have been trafficked, especially when the person in question is a minor. There are few social programs in place to supply resources geared toward rehabilitation. Researchers conclude that there is a growing number of trafficked and sexually exploited minors in the US, yet few programs in place an emphasis on the unique needs of this population.