They’re ready in suburban East Cobb to tackle the wave of sex trafficking expected to, once again, hit a Super Bowl city.
Last week brought a bustling discussion of the issue on an Indian Hills neighborhood chat site after a resident said she planned to drive by two nearby homes being rented out on Airbnb. And if she sees anything funny — such as cars coming and going at night — then she’s going to call 911. Who knows, she reasoned, it might be sex trafficking?
Dozens of others chimed in with: “Super Bowl has the highest activity population rate in trafficking in the whole entire year” and “Atlanta is a Sex Trafficking Hub.”
So, if renowned “sex trafficking hub” Atlanta gets coupled with a perv magnet like the Super Bowl, the City Too Busy to Hate will assuredly be transformed into a hellish modern version of Sodom and Gomorrah.
It has become an annual tradition in the run-up to The Game to be peppered with media horror stories about legions of pimps and their young victims arriving to feed the insatiable proclivities of big hitters coming to town.
Atlanta is gearing up accordingly, as thousands of Super Bowl volunteers and workers are being trained to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Volunteers will distribute bars of soap in hotels with messages to potential victims. There was a “summit” scheduled on the subject this week in downtown’s Super Bowl campus. And law enforcement has special teams at the ready.
It’s a terrible thing to be known as a Hub for Sex Trafficking, and even worse to be connected to child trafficking — titles Atlanta has been given, and which have often been repeated unchallenged as fact.
There was a pushback from authorities. The FBI and local law enforcement, as well as activists, were hard at work trying to save victims and punish the dirt-bags profiting from their misery.
Somehow, taking a clear-eyed look at the reality was seen as siding with the traffickers.
But Mariano found that the numbers just weren’t there; she couldn’t find the level of arrests and prosecutions in metro Atlanta that one would have thought you’d find if there were thousands and thousands of victims and law enforcement was looking for them.
Getting a hold of local statistics was difficult, what with law enforcement being up to their ears in Super Bowl security planning. Authorities said Wednesday they made 33 "sex-trafficking" arrests and "rescued" four victims. The arrests came during the past four days, according to Nick Annan, Homeland Security Investigations special agent in charge. But Annan declined to discuss specifics of the cases, citing ongoing efforts that will continue throughout the week.
Meanwhile, I checked the feds' sites. According to FBI stats, there were 17,663 arrests for prostitution nationwide in all of 2015, although it is unknown how many of those people were being trafficked. But, according to those same stats, only 263 of those arrests were for someone under age 18. That seems low, but that is the number.
Also, those figures are down by half from a decade earlier, which makes it seem like the authorities’ efforts are working.
Granted, victims are often hard to find and often won’t cooperate. But the numbers seem underwhelming compared to the purported crisis. And it would seem if you want to solve a problem, you should be accurate in enumerating it.
Super Bowls of recent years show the same trends: A huge media campaign talking about the problem, law enforcement dragnets and then, following the game, small to middling numbers.
"It's become a circle of stories that get rehashed; it really is a myth," said Ron Weitzer, a George Washington University criminologist who studies prostitution and sex trafficking. He said there's "really no evidence" of the Super Bowl bringing in a flood of traffickers and their victims.
In fact, Weitzer said, it’s not economically profitable for traffickers to travel to unfamiliar cities with jacked-up rates at hotels and with police hyper-focused on the activity.
But for years, the Super Bowl myth has circulated, rarely raising an objection. So I checked the media’s “after-action” Super Bowl reports to get a sense of what really happened in the host cities.
In 2010, stories about the Super Bowl in Miami repeatedly used the figure of 10,000 exploited women and girls coming to the area. The source supposedly was the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But after years of media circulation, The Christian Science Monitor found that the center never made such a prediction.
In 2011, when in the Dallas area, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said, “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human-trafficking events in the United States.”