The excitement of the Super Bowl is upon us again. Viewing parties with elaborate menus and large flat screen TVs are being planned across the nation. And while most of us are deciding between betting on the Broncos or the Panthers, child sex traffickers are betting on big business in the Bay Area. The Super Bowl, like other major events that draw large crowds to one city, tends to attract traffickers because of the potential for increased demand.
The truth is ugly. In past years, law enforcement has rescued children trapped in the sex trade that were brought to the host city to be marketed and sold. For example, in 2014, 16 children as young as 13 years old, and some of whom had been reported missing by their families, were rescued from the sex trade in a sting operation targeting alleged pimps who brought the victims to New Jersey for Super Bowl weekend. According to the FBI, more than 45 pimps were arrested in the operation. Some admitted to traveling to New Jersey for the express purpose of forcing women and children to have sex with Super Bowl tourists for money, according to federal investigators.
What is particularly disturbing is that the Bay Area, which is the site of this year’s Super Bowl, is a known hotbed for human trafficking, and particularly domestic child sex trafficking. Only an hour away from the site of the Super Bowl, Oakland is one of the most well-known areas where children are bought and sold by men for sex.
While there is little data to support the idea that the Super Bowl is the “largest trafficking event” in the country, there is data to support that advertising for commercial sex on sites like Backpage.com significantly increases in the days and weeks leading up to the event. For example, researchers at Arizona State University found that before the Super Bowl in Arizona, ads increased by 30%, and before the Super Bowl in New Jersey they increased by 58%. The same study found that the week prior to the Super Bowl in Phoenix, 21 ads involving minors were discovered. Ahead of the Super Bowl in New Jersey, researchers found that 954 of the ads screened suggested prostitution, and of those, 84% had “indicators of a possible sex trafficking victim.” Fifty of the ads were flagged as potentially involving minors. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there were 133 arrests for individuals seeking sex with minors during the Super Bowl in Dallas in 2011.
Because Backpage.com and similar sites have come under fire for facilitating child sex trafficking by allowing sex ads of children to be posted, traffickers have developed other ways to signal to buyers they are advertising minors. They often use indicators such as “new to town,” “young,” and “petite” in order to indicate that a victim might be underage. Buyers regularly discuss these indicators and ways to evade law enforcement detection on what are known as “john boards.”
In past years, traffickers have even advertised “Super Bowl specials” on sites like Backpage and Craigslist offering special deals and discounts for girls. In 2012, Indianapolis found over 1,000 listings posted the week of the Super Bowl on Backpage.com advertising “young,” “curvy” women and girls for in-calls and out-calls. Nearly a quarter of the ads referenced the Super Bowl: “Welcome football fans! Brown eyed cutie at your service!” “Super Bowl Specials!” “Super Bowl Fun!” “If your team lets you down, we will PEP you up!”
Unfortunately, the same can be said for this year’s event in California. Below are screenshots from a recent search of the “adult jobs” and “escorts” section of Backpage.com in San Jose, California, which is located in the same county as the Levi’s stadium. It is clear that “Super Bowl Specials” have already begun to be advertised in anticipation of this year’s event.
It is unconscionable that California law still allows for the arrest of children for prostitution. In 2014, the Attorney General reported that 174 children[i] were arrested for prostitution. Furthermore, officials with the California Attorney General’s office have told us that soliciting a child for sex often carries a lesser penalty than a DUI.
Even though federal law has recently changed to make clear that buyers can be held liable under human trafficking statutes, buyers are still escaping with little to no penalties for purchasing sex with children. Prosecutors still lack the tools to build cases against child sex buyers under federal laws, state anti-trafficking laws, or state laws that criminalize sex with minors.
The No Such Thing campaign stresses that not only do children need to be recognized as victims in such cases, but their abusers must be named and held accountable. That means that both child sex buyers and child traffickers must be arrested and prosecuted for their crimes against our children. Until this happens, there will be no justice for these innocent victims. This year, let’s stand up for these children by making sure the child sex buyers get arrested and exposed for what they are: child rapists.
[i] Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, California Department of Justice, Juvenile Justice in California 2014, pp. 61 (2015).