Massive Super Bowl/Sex Trafficking Sweep Results in Mostly Misdemeanor Arrests

Most arrests during the PPD's recent, multi-agency anti-human trafficking ops were for misdemeanors (SimmeD via Wikimedia Commons)
A massive, multi-agency anti-human trafficking operation in Phoenix leading up to Super Bowl LVII resulted in nearly 350 arrests: mostly misdemeanors, not sex trafficking.

In the two-week runup to Super Bowl LVII, more than 100 law enforcement officers from nearly 20 local, state and federal law agencies — including the FBI and  DHS — participated in a massive operation in Metro Phoenix ostensibly targeting human trafficking, a heinous crime involving forced labor, forced commercial sex, or minors involved in commercial sex.

But a recent Phoenix Police Department (PPD) press release reveals that most of the busts made by this massive, multi-agency task force were for misdemeanors: Of the 348 arrests made during five law enforcement actions around the Valley, 300 were for misdemeanors, with 120 of those being of “sex buyers,” according to the release.

Sex trafficking of either adults or minors is a felony, not a misdemeanor. So that means nearly 90 percent of arrests in this Valley-wide operation were not for sex trafficking; i.e., for women or men being forced to sell sexual services.

Police made “48 felony arrests,” but the release does not specify which felonies were involved. It adds that “potential traffickers”  identified by the operation “are being further investigated,” and that “five juveniles” and “one adult victim” were recovered, labeling the operation a “successful” one.

Maxine Doogan, a sex worker and activist who helped organize a response to the Super Bowl/sex trafficking sweeps in Phoenix, blasted the PPD’s assertion that the operation had been a successful one.

“It’s not a successful operation when they arrest a bunch of consenting adults,” she said. “That’s going to create another burden on the taxpayers to adjudicate all those cases.”

The “goal of the operation,” according to the release, was “to provide victim outreach” and “to interdict and deter prostitution-related activities.”

But Doogan rejected the idea of using cops to do “victim outreach.” She also denounced the non-profits partnering with law enforcement in such operations.

“That’s not ‘victim outreach’ when you’re arresting people,” she said. “Those are two different things.”

She argued that arrest is itself a form of police violence and effectively revictimizes the victims of sex trafficking. A study done by USC’s Gould School of Law drew similar conclusions, finding that such law enforcement operations were ineffective, did not protect victims, and did not deter trafficking.

Doogan and other members of a sex workers-rights coalition calling itself the “Stop the Raids Committee,” set up a website,, to counter misinformation surrounding the much-debunked myth that the super Bowl causes a spike in sex trafficking.

The group held a demonstration on Feb. 6 opposing law enforcement harassment of sex workers and advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution. Various outlets covered it, including KJZZ, Arizona Family, and Phoenix New Times.

The PPD has yet to respond to questions seeking clarification about the operation. But the release soft-pedals the false notion that large sporting events serve as magnets for prostitution and sex trafficking, an urban legend that has been disproven, repeatedly, for at least a decade.

The release notes the combined presence, during the operation, of the Super Bowl, Waste Management Open, and the Barrett-Jackson auto auction.

“These events draw large crowds of people, many of them from outside of the state, and large events can create a bigger market for human trafficking and prostitution-related activities,” it states.

Note the use of the wiggle word “can.”

However, even this watered-down suggestion of a link between sex trafficking and major sporting events fails.

Last year, after the Super Bowl in L.A., law enforcement announced similar arrest numbers for the state of California, which, again, were largely for misdemeanor arrests of sex workers and johns.

But the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department admitted during a press conference that they would have netted the same number of arrests during other times of the year, when the Super Bowl was not a factor.

The waste of federal and local resources on this annual law enforcement stunt is grotesque. Perhaps that’s why the police are seeking to rebrand themselves as doing “victim outreach,” instead of rousting sex workers, a law enforcement trope that is as old as it is lame.

Please also see:
Arizona Republic Misreported Basic Facts about Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl
McCain Institute Gaslights Public with Op-Ed on Super Bowl/Sex Trafficking Panic

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times,, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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