Miami’s Super Bowl Sex-Trafficking Panic: Bogus Stats, Racial Stereotypes and Rampant Paranoia

panic button
For Super Bowl LIV, Miami hit the panic button, big time. (Eisabeth.Skene via Flickr)
As Super Bowl LIV fades, Miami remains in the grip of a massive sex-trafficking panic attack, induced by cynical politicians, self-serving nonprofits and an irresponsible local press.

Judging from the epic case of mass psychosis that has swept over the Sunshine State as a result of the nation’s annual bout of Super Bowl sex-trafficking hysteria, Floridians could easily give the Flat Earth Society a run for its ducats.

Doubling and tripling down on the most debunked and disproven zombie lie of all time, politicians, the press, law enforcement and an array of money-grubbing non-profits plunged Miami, and Florida in general, into a bizarre state of paranoia and panic over the myth that the Super Bowl is “the largest human-trafficking event on the planet,” a statement made several years back by one of this myth’s primary pushers, the doyenne of false narratives, Cindy McCain.

Since the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women released a report in 2011 stating that, “there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events,” numerous academic studies, news organizations and anti-trafficking advocates have affirmed that there is, literally, no there-there when it comes to this evergreen urban legend.

In advance of the gridiron showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, Reason Magazine senior editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who has perhaps written more about the phenomenon than any other journalist in America, published a long list of links from a variety of outlets refuting this never-ending hoax.

And yet, to read reports from Miami and to talk with activists there, all of that research and reportage seems as effective as spitting into a tropical storm.

Alex Andrews, a sex worker and co-founder of the Florida-based Sex Workers Outreach Project Behind Bars (SWOP Behind Bars), says Miami-Dade County has been awash with legions of “rabid prayer people” and others from “major anti-trafficking organizations” on the lookout for sex trafficked children, talking to the media, passing out promotional stickers, and in a bizarre, puritanical touch, bars of soap with the phone number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline on the packaging.

“Since they haven’t been able to find any trafficking victims or any traffickers, now they’re switching up the story to say it’s all about missing kids,” Andrew says of these wannabe Samaritans, who regularly conflate prostitution with human trafficking and/or sex trafficking.

Of course, there are significant differences. Prostitution involves commercial sex between or among consenting adults.  Sex trafficking, a subcategory of human trafficking, is defined as causing a person under age eighteen to engage in commercial sex, or using force, fraud, or coercion to cause an adult to do the same.

According to the FBI’s own crime statistics, sex trafficking is a relatively rare phenomenon when compared to more common violent crimes such as murder, rape and aggravated assault. But you wouldn’t know that to read or watch Florida’s mainstream media, particularly the daily Miami Herald, which has done its best to ramp up the anti-trafficking hysteria by trading in bogus stats and narratives.

For instance, one recent article by former sports columnist Linda Robertson reads like propaganda for radical feminist groups favoring the abolition of prostitution. Online, it’s given the title, “‘A bonanza for traffickers’: Why a Miami Super Bowl is a magnet for sex-trafficking.” It appeared on the front page of the daily, above the fold and featured a highly misleading photo from an anti-trafficking campaign featuring a little girl with duct-tape over her mouth.

“Everybody who is somebody is rolling into Miami for Super Bowl 54,” Robertson writes. “But accompanying the glamorous parade of celebrities, CEOs, Hall of Fame athletes and National Football League VIPs is an underground stream of no-name girls and young women often branded with bar-code tattoos on their inner lower lip, dulled by a diet of drugs, painted with makeup to look older, bruised or burned in discreet spots and living in a state of terror.”

In addition to such lurid descriptions, Robertson’s use of certain factoids make sex trafficking seem far more widespread than it is. For example, she states there are “40 million victims caught in the $150 billion sex and labor trafficking industry,” but the source for that, the International Labor Organization (ILO), notes that more than 15 million of that number are people in forced marriages.

Of the 24.9 million persons remaining, 4.8 million are “persons in forced sexual exploitation,” says the ILO. So why not say 4.8 million? Well, 40 million is a more impressive figure, albeit highly misleading. Moreover, those 4.8 million persons forced into sexual exploitation are not, by definition, consensual, adult sex workers.

Robertson also states that “Florida ranks third nationwide in human trafficking cases, and Miami-Dade County is the biggest trafficking hub in the state.”

It’s a much repeated stat, which seems to come from the Polaris Project, one of the largest anti-trafficking nonprofits in existence. But as the Polaris Project’s website states, “Polaris publishes data based on calls, text messages, webforms, emails and webchats with the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.”

That is, every time someone picks up a bar of that aforementioned soap and calls the number, Polaris scores another piece of info for its data banks.

The FBI’s crime stats for Florida are more revealing. In 2018, Florida reported a total of 92 sex trafficking cases involving commercial sex acts, according to the FBI. (Of those cases, 50 were reported cleared; one of the cleared cases involved a minor.) For the same time period, law enforcement agencies in Florida reported 1,107 murders and 8,438 rapes.

The paucity of sex trafficking cases in Florida is driven home by the 2019 annual report for Florida’s Human Trafficking Council, published by state Attorney General Ashley Moody, a tireless promoter of the sex trafficking-Super Bowl scam.

The 32-page report goes over everything the government has done to prepare for the waves upon waves of traffickers supposedly headed to Miami for Super Bowl LIV, such as partnering with Uber to train drivers on “signs” of human trafficking and passing new laws to humiliate customers of consensual adult sex workers and harass “massage and public licensing establishments” into doing the government’s bidding.

Similarly, the council holds massive seminars and hands out awards to those fighting this non-existent epidemic. But when it comes to actual, statewide prosecutions, there’s just a brief passage, which reads:

The Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution handles multi-circuit prosecutions of human trafficking cases in Florida. The Office of Statewide Prosecution has a zero-tolerance policy for human trafficking crimes. In just ten months (from January 2019 through the creation of this report, October 2019), this office has accomplished the following in the effort to combat human trafficking: • Six (6) new cases have been opened for the investigation of a total of fifteen (15) targets • Charges have been filed on seventeen (17) other defendants following thorough investigations • Eight (8) additional defendants have been sentenced

Pretty vague and unimpressive stats for an “epidemic.”

In other words, sex trafficking is simply not as rampant as some would like to make out. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. But does it require this level of non-stop paranoia?

Such paranoia is plainly on display through the billboards, posters and online ads that the Women’s Fund Miami is sponsoring, many of them wrapped around light rail cars and other public transportation. The ads play on racial and sexual stereotypes, urging the public to take cell phone pics of people and report them to law enforcement on the flimsiest of pretexts.

One such ad shows a very ordinary-looking African American woman with an African American girl, who appears miffed by something. “Not What You Think,” the ad reads, suggesting that the pair be reported to law enforcement.

Another features a leering while male with his arm around a female of Asian ethnicity and indeterminate age, with the message, “See it. Snap it. Send it.”  There’s one more of a young man and woman, both non-white, which states, “Accompanied by a suspicious companion,” though neither are doing anything suspicious.

Apparently, interracial pairs and people of color should be prepared to explain themselves if found in the vicinity of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.

Contacted via email by Front Page Confidential regarding the racial overtones of this ad campaign, Laura Guitar, a spokesperson for Women’s Fund Miami, wrote back that, “The entire campaign has been informed throughout the process by law enforcement agencies, community-based organizations, and survivor leaders.”

She did not respond to a request for further explanation.

Andrews says such campaigns hurt consensual adult sex workers, as they’re the ones targeted by law enforcement for arrest, particularly trans and non-white sex workers. And by further stigmatizing sex workers and making them the focus of scrutiny, it makes it less likely individuals being victimized would want to come forward to the police.

“It’s super harmful to the sex trafficking victims,” Andrews said of this misinformation. “It’s super harmful to sex workers. The only people that this benefits is politicians who are making their bones on fighting crime. It’s super financially advantageous for these anti-trafficking organizations who are making money hand over fist . . . It’s just super harmful all the way around.”

Countering that harm, Andrews’ group has partnered with the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Foundation and the LGBTQ Freedom Fund to bail sex workers out and otherwise help them if they are targeted by law enforcement because of Miami’s sex trafficking panic attack.

For Andrews, the solution to neo-white-slavery rhetoric from the media and what she calls “trauma porn” from deep-pocket nonprofits will have to be the full decriminalization of sex work, which like the legalization of pot, likely will have to happen on a local level first.

“We have [decriminalization pushes] in Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York and Washington DC that are looking to change these archaic laws,” she said. “I think in the end we will win . . . We’ve got to end the stigma, and we’ve gotta end the discrimination, and we’ve got to end the violence. And we’ve got to do decriminalization in order to achieve that.”

Please also see:
Sex Trafficking Conspiracy Theorists Peddle Same Old Lies in the Lead-Up to Super Bowl LIII
Activists Continue to Exploit Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Myth to ‘Raise Awareness’ (and Money)

Avatar

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, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.