For Miami-area officials preparing to host the 2020 Super Bowl, the high-profile bust of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, charged with soliciting prostitution as part of a widespread sex-trafficking sting, served as a poignant reminder of the connections between big sporting events and sex trafficking.
Sex traffickers often converge on big-ticket events like the Super Bowl, drawn by the crowds and a promise of increased demand for commercial sex services. In the lead-up to the 2019 Super Bowl, Atlanta police arrested 33 people in conjunction with sex trafficking.
“A lot of these major sporting events attract thousands of men to a city where they primarily will drink and party and oftentimes purchase sex,” said Kevin Malone, co-founder and president of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking and former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In Miami, Atlanta Falcons player Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before the 1999 Super Bowl for soliciting sex. His teammates told the New York Times they weren’t surprised, many of the players had been visiting the area to buy sex all week.
Florida ranks third nationwide in human trafficking cases, according to a report by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Not all sex workers are trafficked humans — a type of modern-day slavery — but a percentage of prostitution cases do fit Florida’s legal definition of human trafficking.
The Miami-Dade Human Trafficking unit worked with 582 victims of trafficking between 2012 and 2017. The vast majority were women or girls, and 40 percent of them were minors. About one third of trafficking victims in Miami-Dade were from out of state.
Experts caution that sporting events like the Super Bowl don’t increase trafficking per se — as traffickers rarely close their businesses after the event is over. Rather, the events can increase concentration of trafficked sex workers in the host city in the days surrounding the event.
“Sex trafficking is a 365-day-a-year event and a $32 billion business in the United States,” said Kathy Andersen, the executive director of the anti-trafficking group, Miami-Dade Women’s Fund. “Traffickers use major events to build their trafficking business, but without demand there is no business, so we need to not only stop traffickers, but also we need to address issues of demand.”
Major events also mean increased scrutiny by law enforcement. The Super Bowl in particular has become a rallying point for those focused on raising awareness to combat sex trafficking.
“It’s ironic that the Super Bowl has become a place to fight sex trafficking — little did we know that the owner of the winning team was involved in it,” Malone said.
He cautioned against seeing Kraft as a “one-off bad guy.”
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Malone said. “NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL owners, executives, coaches and players are involved in this, just like any other industry.”
As Miami gears up to host the 2020 Super Bowl, Malone says combating trafficking is about awareness as much as enforcement.
“When our society decides to stop purchasing sex, people will stop selling people for it,” said Malone.