Atlanta’s Traffickers Thrive on Event-based (like Superbowl) buyers
It’s the time of year where media are talking about how trafficking increases around the Superbowl, and anti-trafficking NGOs are “myth-busting” this fact and asking people to focus on how trafficking happens at this volume everyday, year round, across the United States. While it is important to highlight the reality that trafficking is occurring in our cities every day, regardless of the presence major events, we must also avoid minimizing the effects the Superbowl and other major events have on the increase in demand in those cities. The fact is that major events like the Superbowl inspire a higher volume of out-of-town buyers to move into a market where trafficking is occurring everyday. Atlanta, hosting the game this year, has to address this influx in the face of Sunday’s Super Bowl.
An Urban Institute study found that Atlanta’s human trafficking industry was the most lucrative in the nation, in large part because of the events and conventions Atlanta hosts that bring buyers to town.
Atlanta’s sex trafficking industry thrives on the influx of buyers, and the Superbowl is part and parcel of that constant demand. For us to have an impact on trafficking during events like the Superbowl, we need to be focusing on coordinating across the country to end the daily buyers market in every city. We also need to be focusing on sex buyers and their purchasing behavior. An Urban Institute study found that Atlanta’s human trafficking industry was the most lucrative in the nation, in large part because of the events and conventions Atlanta hosts that bring buyers to town. There were around 107,000 online advertisements in Atlanta selling commercial sex of young women and girls this time last month. Now that the Superbowl is arriving, the number of ads selling commercial sex is 153,000 (a 70% increase) and the number of ads with girls “new in town” or “back in town” increased from 2,000 to 3,300 advertisements (a 60% increase).
The number of ads for commercial sex posted for Atlanta leading up to the Superbowl increased by 70%. The number advertising women and girls “new in town” or “back in town” increased by 60% in that same time period. Traffickers travel to meet demand. We ignore the demand component to the detriment of our mission.
Looking beyond pimp-controlled trafficking of young women and girls, another area of trafficking that receives an increase in buyers is Illicit Massage Businesses, or IMBs. Sex buyers view IMBs as having the lowest risk and the general public are less prone to react negatively to them – this is why IMBs cluster around areas like Atlanta and also Orlando, Florida (Disney World) or major airports. An organization focused on eliminating demand for sex trafficking, Demand Abolition, found that regardless of where, when, or how a man buys sex, his risk of being arrested is a very low, with 6.4 percent of buyers ever being arrested. Yet, interviews with thousands of sex buyers found that the number one deterrent for their behavior would be if they expected to face consequences like arrest, or having their name and photograph published in the paper connected to their sex buying behavior.
In order to see a decrease in the demand for sex trafficking around events like the Superbowl, we need to be invested in decreasing the existence of trafficking in our nation every other day of the year. Subject matter experts analyzed every incorporated city in the US and its territories and found that massage businesses have significant regulatory loopholes across the nation that make it a prime venue to be exploited by traffickers. That includes pushing local legislators to close business regulation loopholes that are exploited by traffickers; bring financial consequences to traffickers; eliminate any environment where buyers “feel safe” purchasing sex from human traffickers; and make sure survivors feel safe and supported in seeking assistance.
We need to focus on the local realities of trafficking in each diverse, varied city the Superbowl is hosted in each year in the United States, and we need to be doing that consistently throughout the year. In Atlanta that means acknowledging and coming to terms with the high volume of external buyers that help the local market thrive on a daily basis.