Super Bowl prostitution forecast has no proof

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on January 31, 2011 at 10:52 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 1 at 1:55 PM

DALLAS — For weeks now, police, politicians and non-profit agencies have warned that a wave of prostitutes will be coming to North Texas for Super Bowl festivities.

But News 8 has learned there is no evidence supporting such claims.

"I think it will be like nothing we've ever experienced before," said Deena Graves, executive director of  Traffick 911, a Fort Worth organization dedicated stopping the sale of children into sexual slavery.

Graves is among those warning of an alarming increase in underage girls sold for sex during the Super Bowl.

"Traffickers follow the money, and there's a whole lot of money that comes with the Super Bowl," she said.

Police and politicians have also issued similar statements.

"The Super Bowl is, unfortunately, a major draw for human trafficking," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said during a news conference on the topic at Dallas Police headquarters recently.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott gave reporters similar warnings in Arlington.

But no one can answer the question, "How do you know?" since pimps and prostitutes don't register anywhere.

Still, what makes the problem so much worse during the Super Bowl?

Similar stories about the sex trade surround almost every major sporting event — even the Olympics and the World Cup.

To investigate their validity, News 8 began checking with police departments in other cities that have also hosted the Super Bowl.

Phoenix hosted the big game three years ago. Police there told News 8 they received similar warnings about an increase in prostitution and prepared for it, but never uncovered any evidence of a spike in illegal sexual activity.

"I think one of the things people automatically assume is that while you've got influential people in town, people with significant amounts of money and therefore a whole lot of prostitution is going to follow with that," said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson. "We did not notice an increase or anything out of the ordinary."

Tampa hosted the Super Bowl in 2009. A police spokeswoman there said officers there made 11 prostitution arrests during the entire week leading up to the game.

And last year, Miami police told News 8 they arrested 14 for prostitution.

Those figures are not uncommon for large cities during a seven-day period, experts said.

Last year, Canada debunked similar hype about prostitutes around the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  British Columbia funded a study which concluded that "sex trafficking and mega-events are not linked."

A European group called The International Organization for Migration arrived at the same conclusion in Germany after rumors that 40,000 prostitutes would go to the 2006 World Cup. The estimations are "unfounded and unrealistic," the IOM reported.

Ernie Allen, director for The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said he was misquoted last year when predicting 10,000 prostitutes would show up in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

Allen said the Super Bowl likely doesn't attract more sex traffickers than any other large event. What's more, he also conceded there is no way to quantify the problem.

Still, he and Graves both said the issue is under-recognized and under-reported.

"Sometimes when numbers are very high, people think it's hopeless and they may not even try to address the issue," said Becky Sykes of the Dallas Women's Foundation.

The organization has commissioned a study to research Internet ads and escort services during February.  It's specifically looking for underage girls as prostitutes and hoping — for the first time — to see whether the Super Bowl really increases sex trafficking in the host city.

Critics blame some women's groups for the prostitution myth as they try to raise awareness without facts.

No one disputes that trafficking is a serious and sickening problem, but whether the Super Bowl intensifies it is a prediction no one can yet prove.

E-mail  jwhitely@wfaa.com

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