Ending the Era of Super Bowl “Sex Trafficking” Stings and Myths: Why it’s Time to Retire this Narrative

Super Bowl LVIII is approaching fast, and for many Americans that involves gathering with friends to watch the game, enjoy snacks, and complain about the halftime show. However, for sex workers and customers, it means a higher risk of being arrested by police. Law enforcement tends to increase prostitution stings around Super Bowl time under the guise of preventing sex trafficking. However, there is no evidence of an influx of traffickers and victims during these events.

A group of sex workers and their allies are organizing a protest against these stings and the myths that support them at Allegiant Stadium, the site of this year’s Super Bowl. They argue that the Super Bowl is being used as an excuse to violently arrest sex workers and their clients. They highlight that it is not okay to refer to them and their clients as “sex-trafficking victims and traffickers,” and that they are workers and clients.

The notion of an increase in sex trafficking around the Super Bowl is being challenged by more media outlets, but it continues to persist, especially in Las Vegas, where the event is taking place this year. Nonprofits are using this narrative to draw attention and donations, although their efforts may not actually be helping victims of exploitation.

There is also concern that trainings meant to spot sex traffickers could lead to the harassment of women and increased surveillance. This perpetuates the myth that trafficking is typically carried out by strangers, when in reality it is often perpetrated by individuals within a victim’s own circles.

The media and law enforcement’s tendency to perpetuate these myths is driven by the desire for sensational stories and warnings of danger. The framing of these efforts as anti-sex trafficking allows law enforcement to conduct more policing of sex workers and surveillance in general. This results in the perpetuation of myths that support policies that are tough on sex work.