In the lead up to the Super Bowl, news report after news report have used the fear of prostitution to perpetuate what has long been shown to be an urban myth — the idea that there are intricate networks of sex workers that descend upon cities for large sporting events, a concept furthered by the argument that human sex trafficking follows the same path. Although the link between the Super Bowl and sex trafficking has been debunked, the myth continues, and leads to policies that end up harming many of the women city officials argue they are helping.
In the same way that race and class-based myths have helped to shape many harmful laws and policies for decades — such as drug war policies and welfare policies — prostitution myths are now used in ways that actually target some of the most marginalized populations in our communities.
During large events like the Super Bowl, city governments and local law enforcements prepare for what they argue will be a surge in prostitution and trafficking, dedicating tremendous resources to targeting everyone engaged in prostitution. They perform sweeps and arrests meant to “clean up” the host city’s streets in preparation for the arrival of guests.
Despite the massive law enforcement crackdowns, studies and data have shown that no significant increase in prostitution or trafficking has ever been found during large sporting events. But myths like Super Bowl Sex Trafficking help to conflate sex work and sex trafficking in popular imagination, making it harder and harder to talk about the needs and rights of women consensually involved in sex work.
Women With a Vision has a long commitment to fighting for basic human rights protections for street-based sex workers and their families, addressing the needs of women impacted by laws and policies that make them unsafe, and that put them at risk for violence, stigmatization, and marginalization. Through our NO Justice! Campaign, we fought to combat the criminalization of women in Louisiana engaged in street-based survival sex work, and this year we are launching a new program called Emerge, which will combine education, holistic healing, civic engagement, and life skills to help keep women facing prostitution charges out of jail.