I have a simple heuristic: if I hear the words “sex trafficking” anywhere on television or radio, I know I’m hearing someone lie.

This may not be literally true in every case, but mathematically speaking, it’s a sure bet.

Dr. Marty Klein explains:

Sex trafficking—the real thing, not the political consumer product or object of do-good sloganeering—involves kidnapping or manipulating someone out of their community, forcing them to engage in sex acts somewhere else, and not allowing them to leave at will.

It’s horrendous.

It’s not simply prostitution, not even underage prostitution (which is, of course, illegal and awful). It’s not making porn films, even under onerous conditions. It’s not stripping or being an escort.

And it’s not a special problem at this upcoming Superbowl any more than it was at previous Superbowls.

An increasing number of groups are intent on persuading Americans that we have a terrible and growing problem with sex trafficking. Their data is virtually non-existent, elided with words like “experts agree” and “shameful epidemic.” The new phrase is “youth at risk of being trafficked”—which is, tellingly, ALL youth with any sort of problem.

The media reports anti-trafficking conferences and gigantic, grisly estimates; politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.

A favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to claim that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. In 2011, Texas attorney general Greg Abbot said “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human-trafficking events in the United States”—without any data. He strengthened a unit to pursue those involved with child prostitution (not the same thing as trafficking, of course). The result—at the Dallas Superbowl there were 113 arrests for adult prostitution, and none for trafficking.

The same is true for the three Superbowls before that: grim predictions of upcoming trafficking disasters, and none materializing. Says Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, “The Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes.” The 2012 Superbowl in Indianapolis: 68 sex workers arrested; 2 qualified as human trafficking. Last year’s Superbowl in Phoenix: 71 adult and nine underage sex workers arrested; none had been trafficked.

Simple economics would explain why event-specific trafficking rarely happens: it makes no sense for traffickers to spend huge amounts of money dragging victims across the country, housing them, advertising for business, and charging reduced rates to undercut local prostitutes, all for a single weekend of illicit income—in a place crawling with law enforcement.

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