Sex workers push back on Super Bowl trafficking narrative
“My body, my business. My body, my business,” sex worker advocates chanted as they rallied outside in the rain near Allegiant Stadium during the Opening Night of Super Bowl events in Las Vegas this week to protest sex trafficking stings.
The Monday demonstration came after law enforcement carried out a sting operation focused on sex trafficking during the Formula One race weekend in November, which led to the arrests of mainly locals: 36 for pandering, 31 for trying to purchase sex for money and seven for soliciting a minor or trying to meet with someone underage for sex.
Fox 5 reported that vice detectives identified 215 people believed to be victims of sex trafficking, including five minors, that weekend.
But the advocates want to push back against public statements from anti-trafficking groups that suggest events such as the Super Bowl contribute to higher rates of sex trafficking. They point to research that concluded there was “no empirical evidence that the demand for paid sex increases dramatically during international sporting events,” and argue that a mistaken belief that forced prostitution spikes around the game can create a false premise for widespread prostitution crackdowns that can have life-altering consequences for workers selling consensual — if illegal — sex.
At an intersection steps away from the stadium, the roughly 20 people participating held red umbrellas — a nod at the name of their organization, the Las Vegas Red Umbrella Collective — as police stood nearby. Organizers said they want leaders to address human trafficking by focusing on tactics that would avoid criminalizing “consensual sex workers.”
In Nevada, prostitution is illegal in counties with more than 700,000 residents — such as in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. It is also illegal in Washoe County, which includes Reno, and in some smaller counties that can decide its legality. In the 10 counties where it is legal, it is only permitted inside of a licensed brothel.
Despite prostitution being mostly illegal in Nevada, advocates say sting operations often lead to the arrest of victims and people trying to survive or support a family.
“The laws that criminalize prostitution … end up being the basis that people, mostly women, are discriminated against in housing, access to employment, access to their child custody rights, access to financial institutions,” said 35-year “working prostitute” Maxine Doogan. “So that prostitution arrest can be like a social death.”
Brittany Andrews, 50, who has worked in the sex industry for more than three decades, said the unlawful activity should not be treated similarly to human trafficking.
“Quite often … they get human trafficking, sex trafficking, child trafficking, they get all those different things convoluted,” Andrews said. “There are very distinctly different groups that are going on, with all those different words, lexicon that's being used.”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is planning to carry out a vice strategy, in conjunction with the NFL, during Super Bowl 58 similar to one used during the F1 race weekend to identify victims of sex trafficking, Fox 5 reported in November.
Casino resorts have also teamed up with the England-based It’s a Penalty organization on an awareness campaign to educate the public on how to spot the signs of human trafficking and ways to report it. The group, which times its campaigns around major sporting events, includes a 30-second film featuring Raiders players, photos of victims of trafficking and the team’s president that will be shown on certain flights and mobile billboards.
In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 571 tips from Nevada about human trafficking, making up 1 percent of the 51,000 reports that year in the U.S. However, the hotline itself isn't claiming to have definitive statistics on the scope of the problem.
Metro did not grant an interview to The Nevada Independent for this story and deferred to a website for information.
Ethics and protections
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Sasha Larkin told Clark County commissioners during a Dec. 19 meeting that she and David McCain, head of NFL security for the week of Super Bowl festivities, took a little over two years to devise a security and safety plan, creating 36 working groups.
Las Vegas Metro lieutenants or managers will lead working groups, which include areas of focus such as civil unrest, cybersecurity, human trafficking, mass casualty incidents, the Family Assistance Center and unmanned aerial systems, and report to a deputy chief.
McCain told commissioners that the security measures being used by the NFL are focused on promoting ethics and morals to “safeguard people’s lives.”
“With Super Bowl being here in Nevada, we form partnerships with local law enforcement to uphold the highest regard — that's protecting the lives and citizens of Nevada and the county, but also our fans and staff who are in attendance,” he said. “So when protecting the brand … we also want to protect your brand.”