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Sex Trafficking At The Super Bowl: Is It A Myth?

Ira Gelb/Flickr

MINNEAPOLIS - The Super Bowl has commonly been regarded as the single largest human trafficking event in the country - but that claim is now up for debate.

As a sex-trafficking survivor, Theresa Flores founded The S.O.A.P Project. That stands for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. She explained the answer might be found online, where most sex trafficking business occurs. "Numbers don't lie, and if you go on and check it you'll see it for yourself that they advertise 'Super Bowl Special,' or 'Football Fan,'" Flores said. "So it's very much driven by the event." With the big game in Minneapolis this year, the Women's Foundation of Minnesota commissioned research on the matter.

Co-chair of the Super Bowl Anti-Sex Trafficking Committee Terry Williams said they discovered that while there is an uptick in trafficking in a host city, it is no more than any other major public event. "Using that, we really brought our advocates together and law enforcement and all of those folks to say, 'All right, we know this is an issue 365 days a year. What is our response going to be leading up to and then beyond the Super Bowl?'" Williams said. She said the point is that human trafficking occurs every day of the year and in every ZIP code. And so there will be continued need for greater awareness and education.

The foundation is working with more than 40 organizations as it leads the Super Bowl anti-trafficking efforts, which include increasing support services for victims, as well as training hotel and transportation workers. Once the game ends, Williams added, the larger picture of how to prevent human trafficking in the first place will be examined. "How do we insure that young people have pathways to economic opportunity and that they are able to live in a safe, secure environment?" she said. "And then the other thing is, how do we end demand? And we need to have men step in. We need to have men talking to other men about what's appropriate behavior and what isn't."

The foundation is also developing a model of their human trafficking awareness efforts to be used for future events and shared with other cities.

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