SW Groups Denounce Arizona’s Fear-Mongering Around Super Bowl

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona sex workers, allies and activists have spoken against the current fear-mongering PR campaign by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) based on the discredited myth that the Super Bowl, which takes place this year in the state, is a magnet for sex trafficking.

A rep for Sex Worker Outreach Project — Tucson explained that “year after year, federal and local law enforcement use so-called ‘anti-trafficking’ campaigns as an excuse to round-up sex workers, primarily people of color, immigrants and the unhoused. Super Bowl raids destroy lives, forcing sex workers through the criminal justice system for a publicity stunt, while failing to ‘rescue’ the hordes of victims they claim exist and wasting millions of dollars, that are desperately needed for real problems in our state.”

SWOP-Tucson’s Juliana Piccillo described the resulting arrests for “prostitution” as “life-ruining, limiting educational and work opportunities and separating families, sometimes permanently.”

Piccillo added the arrests “can also be deadly. Marsha Powell died in Perryville prison in 2009 after being left outside for hours on a 108-degree day while serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute any of the 16 Arizona Department of Corrections officers that were responsible.”

SWOP — Tucson noted that statistics do not support the governor’s contention that human trafficking is “pervasive” in Arizona. The FBI’s human trafficking numbers for 2020 show that Arizona law enforcement agencies reported 28 trafficking offenses involving forced commercial sex acts, with zero cases involving labor trafficking.”

Arlene Mahoney, Executive Director at Southwest Recovery Alliance (SWRA), explained that the data “shows that every day in Arizona, more than five people die from opioid overdoses, and the state has no sense of urgency. Yet, here is this unfounded myth about sex trafficking during the super bowl, and resources are allocated to increase policing folks that already exist at the margins of society due to the criminalization of sex work. Those resources are needed for public health crises affecting our community. They can dress it up, using the guise of sex trafficking, but once again, bodily autonomy is being criminalized.”

An ‘Ineffective, Traumatizing’ Propaganda Stunt

A 2021 report from the USC Gould School of Law’s International Human Rights Clinic strongly advocated against these types of raids, calling them “ineffective” against trafficking and “traumatizing” to sex workers, predominantly women of color.   

The data, Kate Mogulescu, founder the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society, told the New York Times, does not “actually supports the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl.”

Whether the game is in Dallas, Indianapolis or New Orleans, she added, “the pattern is the same: Each Super Bowl host state forms a trafficking task force to “respond” to the issue; the task force issues a foreboding statement; the National Football League pledges to work with local law enforcement to address trafficking; and news conference after news conference is held. The actual number of traffickers investigated or prosecuted hovers around zero.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy has called the oft-repeated myth, “an urban legend that is pure pulp fiction.”

According to the Washington Post, “several academic studies have found no causal relationship between large sporting events and an increase in sex trafficking.”

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