This article is a continuation of our last blog: Sports and Human Trafficking: Part I

Let’s be clear: The problem of human trafficking is already epidemic. However, there seems to be a disconnect between anecdotal speculations of massive spikes in human trafficking during major athletic events—versus the actual empirical evidence. There are several possible interpretations for this incongruence. One possibility is that the anecdotal fears are correct, but the researchers are not. In other words, there really are dramatic spikes in trafficking, but the underground nature of this activity continues to elude empirical scrutiny. Another possibility is that the researchers are right, while the anecdotal fears are completely unjustified. In other words, there is absolutely no rise in human trafficking during these events.

However, there might be yet another explanation which has not yet been considered in the literature. Based on our own clinical experience and intuition, we would like to posit a third possibility: Perhaps there are indeed modest to moderate increments in illicit sexual activity during large-scale athletic events, but perhaps these increases still fly under the radar—as does most of the industry, for that matter. Here’s our logic: Whenever there are more humans congregated in a single metropolitan locale, it only follows that there will be more crime in general.

Not surprisingly, research suggests that general crime does indeed increase modestly / moderately during major athletic events. For example, Campaniello (2011) found that “hosting the Football World Cup leads to a significant increase” in both personal and violent crime. It is fascinating to note that the same researcher, after documenting a “significant increase” in crime in general, proceeds to state: “The crimes of drugs and prostitution are extremely difficult to measure in official statistics,” suggesting that certain forms of crime may be harder to detect than others. More recently, Kalist and Lee (2014) studied daily crime rates in eight large cities with NFL teams by comparing criminal activities on game day versus nongame days. These researchers reported a 2.6% increase in total crimes on game days, with increments in financially motivated crimes ranging from 4.1 and 6.7 percent.

It should not come as a surprise that an increased concentration of people in conjunction with heightened arousal would result in higher rates of criminal behavioral. Therefore, if crime in general increases during congregations of hyper-aroused masses, it should only follow logically that illicit sexuality would also increase as one aspect of the overall crime. The previous two studies indicate modest / moderate increments in both violent and financially motivated crimes during major athletic events. Human trafficking is both violent and financially motivated. Therefore, it seems reasonable to presume that human trafficking would also experience modest to moderate increases on “game day.” However, whereas other crime victims tend to involve free citizens who are likely to report the crimes, this luxury does not seem to extend to the victims of human trafficking! Hence the problem of under-reporting.

Even if this hypothesis is correct, the current research still seems to indicate that the magnitude of dramatic spikes in human trafficking on “game day” have been sensationalized beyond accuracy. In the end, sensationalizing the magnitude of these spikes during certain events may actually hurt (rather than help) the battle to combat this problem. Human trafficking is clearly a worldwide epidemic that occurs year round. As previously noted, the University of Texas estimates that 79,000 minors are being sexually trafficked in the state of Texas alone. In America as elsewhere, human trafficking disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations: foster kids, runaways, homeless, and the abused (Busch-Armendariz, et al., 2016). To only focus on this problem at certain times of the year may serve to deflect attention away from the same problem throughout the rest of the year. For example, Christian pastors frequently begrudge the spike in Christian fervor during Christmas and Easter. Of course, they are not actually lamenting the increased focus on those two days; rather, they are lamenting the lack of focus on all the other days. Giving undue attention to the problem of human trafficking only at the Super Bowl or World Cup may have the same effect.

Vulnerable populations are ubiquitous, and current estimates are universally limited by laws and policies, reporting rates and methods, reliance on self-reporting surveys, and difficulty in identifying victims of an often misunderstood and underreported crime (Farrell & Reichert, 2017). While it may be good news that no robust causal relationship has yet emerged between increased sex trafficking and major athletic events, the risk for trafficking amongst the most vulnerable populations is far too high, even on a “normal” day. Perhaps American foster youth and the “cheerleaders” of North Korea may have something to teach in this regard. After all, North Korean cheerleaders still need to return to “work,” long after the Olympics have ended.

Co-authored with Sheresa Wilson-DeVries