Ahead of the 2022 Super Bowl on Sunday (Feb. 13), advocates are raising awareness, as they do each year, about an expected spike in sex trafficking.
The claim that the Super Bowl leads to a surge in sex trafficking cases has been widely discredited, according to Alexandra Yelderman, visiting assistant professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. But Yelderman isn’t surprised that it continues to be repeated — and continues to cause harm.
“The myth of sex trafficking at the Super Bowl persists for one reason: It’s useful,” said Yelderman, who formerly practiced at the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, D.C., where she currently serves as special counsel. “It gives companies the opportunity to virtue signal, to show their commitment to a cause we can all agree on. But the practices that follow are designed to promote a company’s image, not to address the problem. And the consequences of ‘raising awareness’ can be disastrous, exposing innocent people to scrutiny and in some cases shaming. It’s likewise useful to the police, who point to the alleged emergency to justify greater surveillance and other extraordinary measures. They are also given an added incentive to arrest sex workers, and then spin the arrests as ‘sex trafficking related.’ But if you look closely, reports of ‘sex trafficking related’ arrests often involve consensual encounters or even victimless stings.”
The Super Bowl sex trafficking myth is just one example of sex trafficking being distorted by the public. According to Yelderman, “The fight against sex trafficking has been turned into a form of entertainment. People cheer as bad guys are thrown in jail and good guys are rescued. But that’s not how change happens.”
Fighting trafficking is complicated, says Yelderman. “At its core, trafficking is a power imbalance gone terribly, terribly wrong. The process of ending can’t start until we address the circumstances that make it possible: unstable home environments that leave children without support networks, over-criminalization that puts vulnerable people at odds with the police, and economic desperation, among others.”
Yelderman researches online platforms, black markets and the regulation of social media. She taught Notre Dame Law School’s first course on human trafficking, and has written about the role of the internet in combatting sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation.
Contact: Alexandra Yelderman, 574-631-1512, firstname.lastname@example.org