The FBI recently uncovered a sex-trafficking ring surrounding the Super Bowl, and they rescued 16 minors and 50 adult women who had been forced into prostitution. Most of them were American girls and women.
The issue of increased sex trafficking around the Super Bowl is news that has been much debated — and is even treated by some outlets as one of the “Super Bowl myths,” like the one that domestic violence increases on game day. What matters isn’t whether sex trafficking is increased around the Super Bowl. What matters is that any trafficking happens around the Super Bowl. What matters is that any coerced sex-rings happen anytime in our country.
The truth is, with sex trafficking, it’s hard to know whether it’s increased or not around a particular event. This is because it’s hard to measure any phenomenon that’s underground and hidden from view. We’re talking about a black market that survives on manipulating child victims into Stockholm-Syndrome-type silence. It’s a cycle of abuse that leaves little paper trail. Simply counting the number of arrests for prostitution during the past years’ Super Bowls is not necessarily an accurate indicator as to whether or not trafficking and prostitution increased during that time.
So what’s valuable about this recent news is not Super Bowl specific, even if investigators can and should be especially on guard during events they think might bring extra traffic.
What’s really valuable about this news is that it brings to the fore that we have a serious national problem, and it has the potential to unravel several myths about sex trafficking. Here are three big ones, just for starters.
Myth 1: Sex trafficking and prostitution are problems in other countries and cities, not ours. False. It’s not just a problem in Thailand. It’s not just a problem in New Jersey or Las Vegas, for that matter. It’s a national problem in America. As the news article reports, these girls were pulled from 13 of the United States.
Myth 2: Many women make a willing choice to make a living in “sex work.” This is the kicker myth that perpetuates demand for prostitution and escort services. The consumers buy into thinking that the women are willing participants. But children who are abused and manipulated are not willing participants, and when they turn 18 the coercion doesn’t disappear. Even of those not coerced, reports show 89 percent of women in prostitution want out now.
Myth 3: At least pornography and stripping are exempt from this trafficking business. Many American girls and women who have escaped trafficking have revealed that they experienced their time in the sex industry as a revolving door between prostitution, stripping, and pornography. Not only are sex-trafficked minors abused throughout these venues, many surveyed johns report that increased access to pornography was the gateway drug that led them to buying sex with live women.
These myths aren’t just common misunderstandings. They’re lies that the sex industry uses to keep business going strong. There’s a lot of profit to be made and a lot of incentive to keep things quiet. But the more we as a nation face the facts and call these myths for what they are, the safer our country will be for future generations of children.
— Mary Rose Somarriba is culture editor of Verily Magazine and completed a 2012 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship on the connections between sex trafficking and pornography.