Do Sporting Events Attract Human Trafficking?

Source: Forbes

Preparations are currently under way in New Jersey to curb an anticipated spike in sex trafficking surrounding February 2nd’s Super Bowl.

Even the conference championships received attention with the FBI “on alert” for last Sunday’s Patriots/Broncos game.

Recently, Cindy McCain, chair of the Arizona Governor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, characterized the Super Bowl as “the largest human trafficking venue on the planet,” and Mrs. McCain has spearheaded an effort to toughen laws in advance of the 2015 Super Bowl in Arizona.

And Brazilian officials are also planning for an increase in trafficking for the 2014 World Cup.

Amidst these preparations, however, there is little discussion about whether these efforts are actually necessary or effective.

Rhetoric and reality

Does the evidence from previous Super Bowls and other sporting events support the conventional wisdom that sex trafficking spikes around these events? Reports from previous Super Bowls and international sporting events suggest the answer is no.

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW; 2011: 15) concludes that “there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.” The GAATW (2011: 15) examines two Olympics (2004 and 2010), two World Cups (2006 and 2010) and three Super Bowls (2008, 2009, and 2011) and finds that “cases of trafficking for prostitution linked to the sporting event were absent or nowhere near the predicted levels.”

One anti-trafficking organization has even decided to stop outreach at the Super Bowl this year because of the lack of any clear evidence that sex trafficking increases around this event.

The lead-up to another upcoming sporting event, however, has seen an increase of trafficking of a different kind.

Allegations of forced labor have surrounded Qatar in its preparations for the 2022 World Cup. In the 2013 Trafficking In Persons report, the US State Department (2013: 307) recommends that Qatar “abolish or significantly amend provisions of Qatar’s sponsorship law to prevent the forced labor of migrant workers, particularly as demand for migrant workers grows in association with construction for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

And Human Rights Watch suggests that the Russian government is violating the human rights of migrants in Sochi by targeting them for expulsion before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic games.

So while most in the US focus on the potential for a spike sex trafficking surrounding next month’s Seahawks/Broncos game, the record suggests that sex trafficking doesn’t increase nearly as much as expected here in the US while documented labor trafficking and human rights violations can spike abroad.

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