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Sex trafficking and sporting events linked? Arrest reports raise doubts

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Last week, we told you about local strip club employees banding together to fight sex trafficking in anticipation of a spike in forced prostitution related to the Broncos-Chargers game on January 12. Their plan was to hand out trading cards made especially for the playoff game, stamped with the message that "Sex Trafficking Is Modern Day Slavery!"

But did the big game, and the tens of thousands of fans it attracted, cause an increase in human trafficking? Denver arrest records indicate that it didn't.

Only one person was arrested in Denver for a prostitution-related charge over the weekend that the Broncos hosted the Chargers, according to the Denver police. Asked if that was indicative of an increase in prostitution-related activity, the police said no.

So why did the folks behind COAST -- Club Operators Against Sex Trafficking, the organization that coordinated the trading-card handout -- believe that the playoff game would attract human trafficking? Turns out that it's a common prediction. It was made before the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. The international media is already reporting fears of an increase in child prostitution in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer and law enforcement officials in New Jersey, which will host this year's Super Bowl on February 2, are gearing up to fight what some forecast will be an increase in human trafficking there.

Some stories about Super Bowl-sex-trafficking concerns note that two men were convicted of using Craiglist to offer a fourteen-year-old girl as a "Super Bowl Special" when the game was held in Tampa in 2009.

But academic studies and follow-up reporting by several media outlets have shown that officials' worst fears don't always come true. In 2012, Westword's sister paper, the Village Voice, found that police reported no influx of out-of-state prostitutes in Phoenix after the 2008 Super Bowl, in Tampa after the 2009 Super Bowl or in Dallas after the 2011 Super Bowl. Writer Pete Kotz called the notion that big sporting events mean big increases in sex trafficking "one of America's great urban legends."

In 2012, the BBC found the same thing when it examined sex trafficking related to previous World Cups and Olympic Games. From the BBC story:

Prior to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, similar warnings were issued by media and various officials, but according to an EU report from January 2007, the German government only found five cases of trafficking cases linked to the tournament.

The report also states that "the increase in forced prostitution and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation during the 2006 World Cup in Germany which was feared by some did not materialise" with "no sign whatsoever of the alleged 40,000 prostitutes/forced prostitutes -- a figure repeatedly reported, also in international media."

And yet, the 2006 World Cup has been used as an example of an instance where huge numbers of prostitutes were paid for sex by large numbers of the tournament attendees.

Sticking with World Cups, a study funded by the United Nations Population Fund and conducted after the 2010 tournament in South Africa found there was no significant change in the numbers of men visiting prostitutes during that event.

But there had been broad speculation that between 40,000 and 100,000 sex workers from all over the world would enter South Africa because of that tournament.

The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, held in Vancouver, Canada were also subject to similar speculation -- but according to a study conducted afterwards by University of British Columbia researchers, mass trafficking didn't happen there, either.

The study says that "despite sensationalised media coverage" prior to the Games, there was "no evidence in this study to support concerns of an influx of sex workers or reports of trafficking of women or girls."

As for Denver, we're slated to host the championship game between the Broncos and the New England Patriots this Sunday, with the winner headed to the Super Bowl. And while calling attention to the crime of sex trafficking is commendable at any time of the year, the notion that the thousands of football fans who will attend this weekend's game make it absolutely critical to do so now may not be true.

More from our Sports archive: "Denver Post loses third Broncos reporter in a year-plus just before championship game."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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