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Feb 2, 2013

The Superbowl & Sex Trafficking: A Bad Problem that Does not Need a Bad Statistic

Sexual trafficking is real and widespread, but the Superbowl is not the center of the problem. Snopes debunks the claim and others call it an "urban legend." There is some debate about the numbers, but you can't use anecdotal reports to make broad conclusions-- without losing credibility.

For example, one story explains:

There's much more to the Super Bowl than the rivalries, food and beer, or the fact it's the most watched television show of the year.

The Super Bowl is "the single largest human trafficking incident in the U.S.," explains Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

But, what is the evidence? Well, all the references in the article are anecdotal and do not really make the statistical case, citing unnamed experts and linking to an article that does the same.

However, there is no substantiated evidence for the claim. For example, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking Women explains the background in "What's the Cost of a Rumor?" The article states, "There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution."

Furthermore, saying that "classified ads increased," does not really make the case statistically, though I am certainly not surprised if this is the case if there is the widespread assumption that prostitution will increase during the Superbowl. Also, we would expect (and I hope) law enforcement also increases during such large events for that same reason.

Sex trafficking will be bad at the Superbowl, because it is bad everywhere. However, we must be careful not to think this is an isolated occurrence. Instead, we need to understand that it is happening in big cities and small towns, here in the United States, and around the world. If you don't think so, read the FBI's excellent page on the subject. Or, look to the State Department briefing for global information.

Sex trafficking is real, widespread, and horrible-- I just don't want to use bad (or unverified) Superbowl statistics to fight it. Facts are our friends.

Using bad or unverified facts discredits the cause, just as the Superbowl link to domestic violence did not long ago, leading one chronicler of that bad stat to explain, "[though] dramatizations may serve a purpose for some activists, domestic violence is too serious a problem for such exaggerations and opportunism."

Simply put, the statistics on sexual trafficking are already horrible-- we don't need unsubstantiated ones.

If you'd like to get involved in the issue, I'd recommend the International Justice Mission. Also, read Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (and read my interview with Lindsey here).

Let me close with the good advice in the article that began with a bad statistic. They suggest:

  • Raise your awareness and educate others
  • Organize to help. If you're particularly motivated, consider hosting an event or starting a group to fight against trafficking in your community
  • Write editorials, letters to the editor, blog
  • Volunteer to help organizations that are working to end sex trafficking
  • Advocate for stronger laws. Find out what your elected representatives are doing to end trafficking and how you can help
  • Report suspected incidents of trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.

So, I am not saying that we should not talk about sex trafficking around the Superbowl, but I am saying that we should not make statistical claims that cannot be supported by the facts. Such claims undermine the very case that needs to be made to a world that does not want to believe the facts about sexual trafficking.

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Posted:February 2, 2013 at 12:00 am

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