NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. police have arrested at least 750 people in sex-trafficking sting operations timed to coincide with the Super Bowl, saying the top sporting event is a magnet for illicit sex.
More than 100 arrests were made in Houston, Texas where the National Football League championship game took place on Sunday as sports fans flocked to the city for parties and entertainment in the run-up to the event, police said.
The nationwide sweep produced the most arrests since operations began 13 years ago with 29 pimps detained and a further 723 people arrested for buying sex across 15 states, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois, which takes the lead on the annual sex trafficking crackdown.
Police said six minors and 86 adults were rescued as part of the three-week police operation.
“You definitely see spikes in this type of activity around the Super Bowl which is why the operation is done around that time,” said Samuel Randall, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
“Many times (these stings) are done in hotels or on the street in cars,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
There are no firm statistics on how much forced prostitution increases in the run-up to the Super Bowl and experts are divided on the impact the event has on sex trafficking.
A 2011 report by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women found no evidence linking the two.
But a major 2016 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that though past Super Bowls had drawn sex workers to host cities, other events including industry conferences were bigger potential magnets for sex-trafficking victims.
Kate Mogulescu, who runs a project providing criminal defense services to victims of human trafficking at the New York-based Legal Aid Society, questioned the effectiveness of police operations around Super Bowl.
“Police could better spend their resources,” said Mogulescu in a telephone interview.
“Police have other types of investigating resources, including community engagement (and) if the only interaction that victims of trafficking can expect to have with police is by virtue of raids, stings ... that creates the biggest barrier,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org