How to Spot Sex Trafficking; Super Bowl Sunday and Beyond

As the Super Bowl rolls around again, it brings to mind images of parties, food, family and most importantly football. However, for the many victims of sex trafficking large sporting events represent a much grimmer reality. The large influx of potential commercial sex buyers into a small region interacting with the pervasive attitudes of reckless celebration, creates a demand inflation following such attractions. We have seen this time and time again as arrests soar post Super Bowl. Immediately ensuing the Houston Texas 2017 Super Bowl, 183 sex buyers and 9 sex traffickers were arrested. These occasions that represent merriment to most carry a horrific after shock for survivors of the commercial sex industry. And unfortunately, this doesn’t just happen at events like the Super Bowl—sex trafficking happens on a daily basis, all year round.

Demand Fuels Trafficking

Commercial sexual exploitation is ultimately a business and as hundreds of thousands of people flood the host city demand increases exponentially and the supply follows. The main demographic for commercial sex buyers is males ages 31-40, which overlaps greatly with that of the Super Bowl making it a prime market for traffickers. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 prostituted persons were brought into Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl. Additionally online ads increase in volume, specifically  “new to town” ads which reference new prostituted persons and could imply an increase in trafficking victims. One study found that 83.7% of all commercial sex industry ads the week of the Super Bowl were likely victims of sexual exploitation, this was in northern New Jersey alone.

During peak times the biggest help everyday citizens can provide is to be on the lookout for suspicious behaviors. Many hotel, beauty industry, transportation and medical workers are receiving trainings on how to spot sex trafficking. These are important first lines of defense as victims will often pass through these related businesses. However, with the increasing rates of trafficking everyone must be aware of what to look for.

Here are some potential warning signs compiled by the Polaris Project:

Common Work and Living Conditions: The individual(s) in question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go at will
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
  • Is living and working on site
  • Experiences verbal or physical abuse by their supervisor
  • Is not given proper safety equipment
  • Is not paid directly
  • Is forced to meet daily quotas

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement or immigration officials
  • Shows signs of substance use or addiction

Poor Physical Health

  • Shows signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, and/or fatigue
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is frequently monitored
  • Is not in control of their own money, financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of their own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where they are staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Appear to have lost sense of time
  • Shares scripted, confusing, or inconsistent stories
  • Protects the person who may be hurting them or minimizes abuse

What to Do If You Suspect Someone is a Trafficking Victim

If you suspect someone to be or are yourself a victim of human trafficking contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) or text “help” to BeFree (233733). We recommend not intervening personally if you are not a trained individual as, due to the complex relationships that victims have not only with their traffickers but often with social services and or the police, they may resist any efforts to help or be punished for drawing attention. The hotline service has proven highly effective in locating trafficking instances, receiving 5,544 potential cases in addition to the 1,600 victims contacting them in 2015.

Ultimately it is easy to feel powerless against the many statistics associated with the Super Bowl and trafficking, or conversely to divert all attentions to a single day. However as Bob Rodgers, the CEO of advocacy group Street Grace in Atlanta, said, “The Super Bowl doesn’t cause sex trafficking, conferences and conventions, like so many we have in Atlanta, don’t cause sex trafficking. It is already occurring in every metro Atlanta county and it will still be happening when the Super Bowl leaves. The Super Bowl brings millions of people into the city and sex trafficking will ebb and flow with the event, just like business at restaurants, bars and adult establishments.” Trafficking is a 24/7, 365 day a year business. While major events such as the Super Bowl create a temporary influx of this industry, fighting trafficking following one event will not take down the entire industry. As daunting of an effort as this is, individuals can make a serious difference by vigilantly searching for and reporting suspected trafficking year-round. If you want to go a step further in the fight to end trafficking join our action center.

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.



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