Study Links Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 02: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos completes a pass for a 16 yard gain against the defense of cornerback Byron Maxwell #41 of the Seattle Seahawks during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVIII Halftime Show at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
March 4, 2014, 9:45 a.m.

More than 820 on­line ads for pros­ti­tu­tion in the New York City and New Jer­sey area in the days be­fore last month’s Su­per Bowl may have in­volved vic­tims of sex traf­fick­ers, ac­cord­ing to a study to be re­leased this week by John Mc­Cain’s In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tion­al Lead­er­ship.

Fifty of the ads found on a well-known sex-selling web­site in the 10 days be­fore the Feb. 2 Su­per Bowl were flagged by the re­search­ers as po­ten­tially in­volving minors and were sent im­me­di­ately to the Na­tion­al Cen­ter for Miss­ing and Ex­ploited Chil­dren.

The sheer volume of those sex-for-sale ads and the po­ten­tial in­volve­ment of minors and sex-traf­fick­ing vic­tims ex­ceeded the ex­pect­a­tions of the re­search team. The full re­port will be re­leased Thursday in Tempe, Ar­iz., by Domi­n­ique Roe-Sepow­itz, from the School of So­cial Work at Ari­zona State Uni­versity, and by Cindy Mc­Cain and Phoenix Po­lice Lt. James Galla­gh­er in Wash­ing­ton.

Next year’s Su­per Bowl is set to be held in Gl­end­ale, Ar­iz. Cindy Mc­Cain has been seek­ing to bring more pub­lic aware­ness to the is­sue of sex traf­fick­ing around ma­jor sport­ing events. She test­i­fied last week be­fore a House Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee.

“The Mc­Cain In­sti­tute is proud to in­vest in new re­search sur­round­ing sex traf­fick­ing and large sport­ing events,” said Mc­Cain, who is co­chair of the Ari­zona Gov­ernor’s Task Force on Hu­man Traf­fick­ing. “A re­search-based, great­er un­der­stand­ing of how these net­works are op­er­at­ing gives us all a bet­ter op­por­tun­ity to com­bat hu­man traf­fick­ing every day.”

With the as­sist­ance of loc­al law en­force­ment, the re­search­ers re­viewed 987 on­line com­mer­cial sex ads placed on a site with read­er­ship across parts of New York and New Jer­sey in the 10 days lead­ing up to the Su­per Bowl in East Ruther­ford, N.J.

Dur­ing the course of the study, 954 of the ads screened in­dic­ated pros­ti­tu­tion. And of those screened, 826, or 83.7 per­cent, had “in­dic­at­ors of a pos­sible sex traf­fick­ing vic­tim.” The ads were fur­ther re­viewed us­ing a “mat­rix tool” to as­sist in identi­fy­ing po­ten­tial minor vic­tims based on lan­guage, pho­tos, and oth­er clues.

That led to 50 of the ads be­ing flagged as po­ten­tially in­volving minors.

In ad­di­tion, the team placed de­coy ads us­ing an im­age provided by law en­force­ment in the geo­graph­ic area closest to the Su­per Bowl ven­ue, which in­cluded North Jer­sey, Man­hat­tan, Brook­lyn, and Staten Is­land. Dur­ing the course of study, the de­coy ad gen­er­ated 1,457 con­tacts who re­spon­ded us­ing voice­mail or text mes­sage.

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