The Super Bowl Prostitution Hoax

Indianapolis mobilizes for an epic battle with an urban legend.

Indianapolis is bracing for war. It's Super Bowl week, after all. Time for the Annual Invasion of the Hookers, which promises to be as harrowing as the Ottoman Empire's advance on Crete in 1647, though with considerably more nudity.

Yes, one of America's great urban legends is again being trotted out just in time for kickoff: The notion that legions of out-of-town prostitutes descend on whichever city hosts America's Big Game.

This time around, it's Indiana attorney general Greg Zoeller who's milking the hysteria for political gain.

Village Voice Media photo-illustration. Source photography: iStockphoto.com

Zoeller is riding the momentum of a hoax that's reignited before every major sporting event, be it the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the Olympics or the NBA All-Star game. Alarming figures are pulled from the mist of imagination, where extra zeros apparently come free with every purchase. Anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 hookers will be coming to town! Hide the women and children! And perhaps the more effeminate men as well! You know, just in case!

It's a myth that's been playing to sell-out crowds for more than a decade. But there's been trouble at the box office in recent years. No one gets too excited about garden-variety prostitution anymore. As a culture war wedge, it's so 1912.

So promoters of the panic have changed their advertising. Instead of adult harlots, the siege now consists of underage girls.

This year it's Indianapolis that's marshaling its defenses. Seven hundred cabbies have been trained to spot the victims of pimps. Nuns have been dispatched to hotels to lecture staff. Special soap — more than 16,000 bars, reports the Indiana Statesman — is being placed in hotel rooms, stamped with phrases like "Are You Witnessing Young Girls Being Prostituted?" In the event that the answer is yes, national hotline numbers are conveniently being stamped on bathroom walls.

Not to be left out, the Indiana legislature rammed through an emergency bill to keep the state safe for the game. Sell a child under age 16 for sex in the Hoosier State, and you're now looking at up to 50 years.

The legislation passed unanimously in both houses. Not a single elected official questioned the need for the bill — or asked whether it might make more sense for the state to provide money for the treatment of actual victims of underage prostitution.

In the words of the Muncie Free Press, lawmakers "managed to outlaw underage prostitution in Indiana just in time for the Super Bowl on Sunday."

Villains of America, be forewarned.

"Our information is that it's typical for an increase in demand for commercial sex at a big event," says Abby Kuzma, director of consumer protection for Zoeller's office. "Our information is that it's all about the money. They are willing to go wherever the money is."

You don't have the heart to tell her her information is wrong. Very wrong.

Said Phoenix police Sergeant Tommy Thompson after the 2008 Super Bowl: "We may have had certain precincts that were going gangbusters looking for prostitutes, but they were picking up your everyday street prostitutes. They didn't notice any sort of glitch in the number of prostitution arrests leading up to the Super Bowl."

Said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis after the 2009 Super Bowl: "We didn't see a huge influx in prostitutes coming into Tampa. The arrests were not a lot higher. They were almost the same."

Last year's panic came courtesy of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Maybe he didn't have access to Google, so he didn't know any better. Or maybe — just maybe — he decided that a little false delirium was a small price to pay to see the two most glorious words in the English language — "Greg Abbott" — prominently featured in headlines for months before the Dallas Super Bowl.

Abbott organized task forces with the FBI, ICE and Homeland Security. He raised an army of volunteers from religious and women's groups. All were on deck to rescue the thousands of underage girls who'd be sold like ground chuck throughout Big D.

Word was that 100,000 hookers could arrive — and that as many as 38,000 would be underage. Even flight attendants were trained to spot trafficking victims — which shouldn't have been difficult, since it would have taken 57 Boeing 747s to fly them all to town.

As politicians and activists continued to crank up the fear factor, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy had had enough. "This is urban legend that is pure pulp fiction," he said in January 2011. "I would refer you to your local law enforcement officials."

Sure enough, when it was all over, cops had managed just 105 arrests metrowide, mostly by rousting the local talent. Twelve women faced penalties no greater than for speeding tickets. Only two arrests involved human trafficking.

Cops in Germany, Canada and South Africa offered similar testimony following the World Cup and the Olympics. But these men and women who deal with prostitution every day aren't the ones crying wolf in the first place. The hysteria most always comes from the professionals of manufactured outrage: politicians.

The federal government now spends $80 million a year to combat human trafficking. Almost none of that money actually goes to offer help to trafficking victims. Instead, former president George W. Bush created task forces in 92 cities. Each only averages about two sex cases a year.

That's because, statistically speaking, most trafficking has nothing to do with sex.

The vast majority involves forced labor, people indentured to pay off smuggling fees. Hence, the lion's share of traffickers aren't pimps, but New York restaurateurs, Kansas meatpackers and large-scale ag companies from Florida to California.

If cops wanted superior hunting, they'd do better to raid the U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention. But that would entail throwing down with the captains of industry, who just happen to own private militias of lawyers. Far easier to challenge the invisible pimps, where there's no risk of getting nicks in your sword.

That's the path chosen by Zoeller. He's not exactly a seasoned crime fighter or man of the street. He made his bones as an aide to Vice President Dan Quayle, then worked the Beltway Republican patronage system before returning to Indiana.

He apparently doesn't have Google access, either.

Zoeller has been widely cited in the Indiana media for calling the Super Bowl the largest human trafficking event in the country. He championed the new law cracking down on the sexual sale of kids. He's appeared at press conferences with Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, urging men to sign pledges foregoing the purchase of young girls. His office has trained more than 2,000 people to spot trafficking during the Super Bowl.

But while his preparations for the onslaught have come with ostentatious flair, our hero hasn't accomplished much on the ground. So far, the biggest hooker bust came in suburban Greenwood, where a hotel sting netted three arrests.

One woman was from Texas. Detectives suspect she showed up for the Super Bowl.

Still, one might think Zoeller's den is festooned with the scalps of battle, since his hometown annually hosts one of the largest sporting events in the country, the Indianapolis 500. His office has also co-chaired one of Bush's anti-trafficking task forces since 2005.

But his point woman on trafficking, Abby Kuzma, can't recall a single human-trafficking arrest at the Indy 500. Either racing fans — mostly poorer, country people — prefer to get amorous with Golden Corral hostesses, or America's pimps have been calling in sick every year.

Maybe this Super Bowl will be different. Maybe Zoeller's army will finds legions of prostitutes writhing in the Hilton kiddie pool.

For the sake of a lasting national panic, one can only hope.

After all, with attorneys general, state legislators and soap-dispensing nuns all on the team, it sometimes seems pointless to cry foul. Even the NFL's McCarthy seems resigned to the idea that America's political class is simply too invested in the Super Bowl hooker myth to make any protest worthwhile.

Despite the fact that he was dead right about last year's game in Dallas, when asked for comment this year, McCarthy offers only the following:

"The National Football League supports strong human trafficking laws. Additionally, we work closely with federal, state and local law enforcement to insure that the Super Bowl is a safe environment for the host community and the fans who enjoy the game and the celebration."

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
Danhoague
Danhoague

He was probably hoping for influx of hookers to his town so he can get some. I'm pretty sure he is not opposed to pimping his own daughter out to those big football players for a ticket.

guest
guest

Just more of the typical fearmongering from the right-wing morals police

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis

WFAA News Dallas, TexasBy JASON WHITELYPosted on January 31, 2011 at 10:52 PMUpdated 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.

Dallas TV News show about super bowl sex slave myth:

http://www.wfaa.com/sports/foo...

Video only:

http://www.wfaa.com/v/?i=11498...

Research report on sorting out the myths and facts about sex trafficking at sporting events: http://www.gaatw.org/publicati...http://bebopper76.wordpress.co...

H_e_x
H_e_x

Must be great making your money from sex trafficking. Following ya'lls lead, I think I'll go club some baby seals. Hey, a jobs a job, right?

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis

Where are all the underage children kidnapped and forced against their will to have sex for profit by a pimp? for the super bowl?

How come we don’t see any of the victims themselves complaining about it?

Why don’t the “millions of child victims” talk about how they were kidnapped and forced by a evil pimp to have sex for profit? I would like to have a interview with the “millions of forced against their will raped kidnapped child victims” So I could hear their stories. Where are they? Why do we only hear from the anti-prostitution groups that received money and grants from the government, and not the millions of victims themselves? If there are Millions of them, Shouldn't the police and public know where they are, and shouldn't we hear the millions of victims speak? Do all men really love raping children who are kicking, crying and screaming, with no one willing to help? Are all men really evil?

Here are some good links about sex trafficking:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...http://www.youtube.com/user/My...http://bebopper76.wordpress.co...

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

I don't know anything about human trafficking, but you'd have to be a moron not to know Prostitutes don't come to the Superbowl week. Do you even know what strip clubs in Houston were like before Houston had its Superbowl? All of those out-of-towners went to the clubs and serviced pretty much anyone with money. Sadly, they also showed the local girls how much money they made, and strip clubs have turned into whorehouses ever since. If you weren't aware of this, you didn't do the slightest bit of research.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Paid flack to troll VVM sites.

TJ Black
TJ Black

Got a cite for that claim?

My only issue with the article is that it unfairly characterizes Indy 500 fans as "mostly poorer, country people". Other than that, spot on and well researched.

H_e_x
H_e_x

I bet people don't drink more on Superbowl weekend either. I mean, what could possible make consumption rise?

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

Yeah. The HPD blog, common sense, and recalling it as it used to be.

I'm not doing myself any favors admitting that my friends and I used to frequent the joints in our 20's and 30's, but I'm fully aware of the immediate impact the Superbowl made here in Houston, and anyone familiar to the industry can give detailed info, if someone were interested in what changed between then and now. I've also talked to plenty of waitresses and such, so I'm by no means the expert. But they will validate it, as would anyone who went into a strip club prior to 2004 in this town.

 
Houston Concert Tickets
Loading...