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Does the Super Bowl cause sex trafficking to increase? New study gives answers

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In a ground breaking study released Thursday, researchers found that although the Super Bowl is not the cause of sex trafficking in a region, it has a definite impact on the volume “sex-for-hire” transactions. With the influx of thousands of game attendees and the concentration of people and enterprises around the sporting event, criminal activity of all types increases and can be viewed as an expected side effect of the increased opportunities for exploitation.

The study, "Exploring Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Demand during the Super Bowl 2014", was funded by the McCain Institute for International Leadership and was implemented by a team of researchers from Arizona State University and Phoenix and Mesa Police Departments. Building on the research The ASU team conducted in 2012 which analyzed occurrence of trafficking ads on Backpage.com, researchers focused on several key elements of possible sexual exploitation scenarios:

  • Frequency of ads paced within 10 days of the event for sexual services in the locales adjacent to the Super Bowl arena zip code
  • Analysis of the material for signs of adult or juvenile trafficking
  • Estimation of demand as drawn from responses to decoy ads placed by the team
  • Comparison of sexual solicitation ads and decoy ads in the Phoenix market to get a baseline for the Super Bowl 2015 which will be in Glendale, Arizona

A matrix developed in the prior study provided consistent data points for the team to separate trafficking ads from others. The total number of potential victims and specifically juvenile cases surpassed the investigators’ estimations. In the New Jersey regions, at least 38 websites advertised apparent minors with 50 individuals identified in a total of 95 postings, all of which were sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. All prostitution ads examined for New Jersey numbered 987 with 826 being flagged as potential sex trafficking cases.

During the same period, 1345 Phoenix ads were analyzed with these results:

  • 1282 were flagged as prostitution ads,
  • 1070 (79.5%) were flagged as potential sex trafficking ads,
  • 34 ads (3.2%) posted a total of 81 times were flagged to be potential sex trafficked minors and sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and then on to Phoenix police
  • 18 juvenile ads were flagged the weekend prior to the Super Bowl, which increased to 33 postings for the event weekend

To determine demand levels, the team posted two decoy ads, claiming an age of 22, twice each day for 11 days in both the Phoenix and New Jersey markets with these findings:

  • 1,276 unique contacts (voicemail/text) were made with 2435 total responses
  • In New York/New Jersey there were a total of 1,457 contacts (753 unique customers) and in Phoenix a total of 978 contacts (523 unique customers).
  • Contacts were from potential customers and traffickers soliciting “employment”
  • Numerous requests for unprotected sex “uncovered” “allergic to latex” and “bare back” and “full uncovered” were received
  • Drug use mention was common
  • Callers generally requested an outcall to a specific location

The research has provided data that verifies many of the common assumptions about the sex trafficking pandemic in this country.

  • Large sporting events and conferences do not create the sex trafficking problems, but certainly become a draw for trafficking activity, both in the immediate venue and possibly in other large cities simultaneously
  • There is high demand for sexual exploitation of young people
  • Greater numbers of youth are being trafficked than anticipated
  • Analysis of ad phone numbers indicates that there is definite pattern of movement (circuits) of victims into an area as a big event approaches and out of the locale afterward
  • The volume of trafficking occurrences far exceeds the capacity and resources for law enforcement to handle adequately
  • Because of the trafficking networks throughout the country, it is easy to move victims, especially minors, to new locations, thus evading capture of the perpetrators and recovery of the juveniles
  • There is a grave need for greater training of law enforcement on the issue and for vastly improved national and interstate data collection and communication about potential child exploitation cases

New Jersey law enforcement officers arrested over 100 perpetrators and rescued 16 juveniles and 50 women who had been trafficked during the Super Bowl week. One youth in Phoenix was recovered in the same interim.

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