For most of us, big football games are celebrated screaming on sofas with beer and chips in hand, but law-enforcement officials in Houston had been prepping for the dark side of Sunday’s game – a surge in sex trafficking.
In 2011, former Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told USA Today about the “ugly underbelly” of the Big Game, saying: “It’s commonly known as the single largest human-trafficking incident in the United States.”
Last month, the mayor and top cops in Houston said that they would be cracking down on the sex trade leading up to the big event and implementing a zero-tolerance ban.
“When we arrest you, will will expose you for the sick person that you are, and we will plaster your face in the community so people know,” Houston police chief Art Asavedo said at a press conference.
Additionally, around 100 flight attendants volunteered for the Airline Ambassadors training session, a two-day seminar held in Houston that taught in-flight crews to recognize the signs of human trafficking. They were taught to be on alert for passengers who appear to be frightened, young people traveling with someone who doesn’t appear to be a parent or relative, and children or adults who appear bruised or battered.
NFL spokespeople have repeatedly called the connection an urban legend, and claimed that there is no increase in arrests to support the claim. And a 2011 report by the Global Alliance Against Traffic In Women found that when it comes to large-scale sporting events, “Despite massive media attention, law-enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.”
But some experts believe that the underground nature of the crimes means that many of them go unreported. The National Human Trafficking Hotline found that 7,500 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2016 — up from 5,526 in the previous year — and California and Texas led the nation in reported incidents.
The hotline, which is run by the nonprofit organization Polaris, maintains a resource center for victims of trafficking and aggregates statistics based on incoming reports and phone calls. California had over 1,300 incidences of human trafficking reported last year, almost double any other state, according to the nonprofit.
Texas had the second-highest number with 670 cases, and Florida came in third at 550 cases, according to the hotline.
Main photo: [Ira Gelb, creative commons, slightly cropped for formatting]