Sex trafficking—the real thing, not the political consumer product or object of sloganeering—involves kidnapping or manipulating someone out of their community, forcing them to engage in sex acts somewhere else, and not allowing them to leave at will.
It’s not simply prostitution, not even underage prostitution (which is, of course, illegal and awful). It’s not making porn films, even under onerous conditions. It’s not stripping or being an escort.
An increasing number of groups are intent on persuading Americans that we have a terrible and growing problem with sex trafficking. Their data is virtually non-existent, elided with words like “experts agree” and “shameful epidemic.” The new phrase is “youth at risk of being trafficked”—which is, tellingly, ALL youth.
The media reports anti-trafficking conferences and gigantic, grisly estimates; politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.
The favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to claim that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. In 2011, Texas attorney general Greg Abbot said “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human-trafficking events in the United States”—without any data. He strengthened a unit to pursue those involved with child prostitution (not the same thing as trafficking, of course). The result—at the Dallas Superbowl there were 113 arrests for adult prostitution, and none for trafficking.
The same is true for the three Superbowls before that: grim predictions of upcoming trafficking disasters, and none materializing. Says Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, “The Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes.” The absence of such time-specific trafficking is perfectly logical: it makes no sense to spend all that money dragging victims across the country for a single weekend of illicit income.
Nevertheless, promoters of SexPanic are at it again this year. Congressmember Ed Royce (R-CA), citing no data whatsoever, announced this week that “any high-profile sports event that brings a large influx of visitors to a new locale can also create circumstances conducive to human trafficking and sexual exploitation,” and of course introduced a bill increasing penalties on traffickers.
Every year, the NFL has to deny that they’re the center of an odious international sex slavery ring. NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy says the super bowl sex slave story is a simply an urban legend.
But that doesn’t stop those who are feeding—and feeding off of—America’s latest Sex Panic. One week before hosting the 2014 Superbowl, for example, Indiana’s legislature unanimously passed a law that makes recruiting, transporting or harboring anyone younger than 16 for prostitution a felony punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison. The law was passed without a single documented case of sex trafficking in the state. You now get less jail time in Indiana for murdering a teen than for pimping her.
The dozens of groups “fighting” trafficking rarely report actual successful interventions, which shows exactly how pointless most of what they’re doing is. “Raising awareness” would be harmless if it didn’t cost money, encourage fear and anger, or spread misinformation.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly why “raising awareness” about sex trafficking in America ISN’T harmless—it’s diverting money, time, and attention to a barely-existing problem, encouraging politicians and the public to ignore more important issues—like unintended pregnancy, domestic violence, and a lack of prenatal medical care for poor teens.
Calling prostitutes of any age victims of trafficking is an insult to those who really are kidnapped or tricked into sexual slavery. And lying about the Superbowl’s magnetism for the worst kind of criminality—when the numbers clearly show otherwise—is a disservice to every parent, every teen, and every taxpayer. It’s the latest example of the Sexual Disaster Industry expanding its product line.
To repeat, real human trafficking is horrendous. We should be grateful that with all of America’s problems, sex trafficking victimizes such a tiny number of people.