In the 1980s, a popular but untrue axiom held that domestic violence spiked drastically during the Super Bowl. In this century the myth got a modern makeover, with people now proclaiming—despite an utter lack of evidence—that the Super Bowl and similar sporting events are huge draws for human traffickers.
Now, like all things 2017, the urban legend is taking on an even more ridiculous iteration. Media outlets across the country are claiming that forced prostitution will peak with next Monday's solar eclipse.
What, you might wonder, is the theory here? Will sex traffickers be emboldened by the extra bit of darkness? Do they get extra aggressive depending on lunar phases? Alas, this fearmongering is much more mundane. As with the Super Bowl story, the authorities are claiming that an influx of visitors to eclipse-viewing areas will also bring an influx of evildoers.
In Kentucky, Allyson Cox Taylor, head of the state's Office of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Prevention, suggested that "people who weren't trafficking before may decide, there's people in town that are anonymous, people we don't know from another place, and this is an opportunity to make money." Apparently she thinks finding and forcing others to do your bidding is something that people just up and decide one day to do on a whim.
In Bend, Oregon, several pre-eclipse seminars focused on how locals could spot the incoming sex traffickers, offering up a mix of the mundane and the absurd. "Among the signs," warns the Associated Press (sigh), are "one man with a large number of girls, multiple guests in a hotel room, unsupervised children, a minor with multiple cell phones, a man who always speaks for the women he is with, or poker chips passing hands."
Most of these manage to stop short of total paranoia, and at least acknowledge that the TV/movie version of sex trafficking, with strangers abducting women and children, almost never happens. But a few do suggest that sex traffickers will be lurking in the dark, waiting to snatch up children who get separated from their parents for even a few minutes.
(In the midst of all this, however, behold the rarest of rare occurences: TV news and local police in Portland teaming up to announce that "they have no reason to suspect there would be a surge in human sex trafficking in the metro area.")
Even "the FBI is looking into the credibility of human trafficking threats during the eclipse," according to WDRB in Kentucky.
"We're going to have a lot of people come into Central Nebraska," Tony Kavan of the Nebraska State Patrol told a local ABC affiliate. "Anytime there's a large group or a large influx of people, statistically right now it looks like we can expect an increase in sex trafficking."
There are in fact no statistics that support that contention, and there is only the flimiest of evidence that prostitution advertising more generally might increase around big public events. Mainstream media outlets from CBS News to The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Sports Illustrated, and The Huffington Post (to name a few) have cautioned against this bunk theory. (As have we here.) And a 2011 report from The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women states unequivocably: "There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution."
But why let reality get in the way of good government propaganda, exciting local news programming, and excuses to do vice stings?
Photo Credit: Library of Congress/Newscom