Numerous media reports have indicated that beyond the theatrics of the halftime show and the fanfare in the bleachers, there lurks a dark side to the Super Bowl: human trafficking.
But with an uptick in awareness surrounding trafficking -- in this case, transporting people for the purposes of forced labor or sex -- experts are increasingly decrying the link between the two as a myth. Nonprofits and some officials are calling into question the idea that the Super Bowl this Sunday in New Jersey will bring about more incidences of trafficking, saying the statistics simply aren't there to back it up.
"It is important to know that there isn't much evidence linking the Super Bowl to a major rise in trafficking," Bradley Myles, CEO of anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project, wrote in a blog for HuffPost
He points out that instead of spotlighting the Super Bowl, efforts should be spent focusing on big-picture solutions 365 days a year.
Similarly, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women pointed out in a 2011 human trafficking study that the claims linking sporting events and trafficking are a distraction:
"This myth trivializes trafficking ... and wastes needed resources that could be used to actually address trafficking."
Trafficking is a year-round business and follows the basic principles of supply and demand, Staca Shehan, director of the Case Analysis Division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, told The Huffington Post.
"What we know about sex trafficking is that it is demand-driven and any type of event that brings large groups of people together would generally increase demand," she said. "Pimps and traffickers follow the money, so they bring their victims wherever they can make the most profit. They look for opportunities they can capitalize on."
What we still don't have is quantitative evidence, Shehan said. "If you understand the crime of trafficking and the manipulation and control behind it, you'll understand why it is difficult to get victims to disclose their history of abuse. So it is hard to say if there is a dramatic increase or what the exact numbers are. The evidence that does exist is mostly anecdotal."
So where does the confusion stem from?
In one example earlier this week, Rep. Christopher Smith (R) of New Jersey said in a statement that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that more than 10,000 exploited women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010.
But The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children refuted the claim on its site:
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is encouraged by the increased awareness of child sex trafficking that occurs before large events such as this weekend's Super Bowl. However, some news outlets have attributed the statement "10,000 child sex trafficking victims were at the Super Bowl in Miami" to us. That is inaccurate.
No one knows with certainty the exact number of children exploited through sex trafficking in the United States or during events like the Super Bowl.
In 2011, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott stated that "the Super Bowl is one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States," which HuffPost and other outlets reported in the past.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women called Abbott's claim "unfounded," and speculated that anti-prostitution advocates were amping up the connection between trafficking and the Super Bowl to raise awareness. The organization's 2011 report reviewed evidence from the World Cup, the Olympics and the Super Bowl, concluding there was no increase in human trafficking at sporting events.
Still, some disturbing facts remain. According to UNICEF, 1.5 million individuals are victims of trafficking in the United States, with 21 million worldwide.
In New York and New Jersey, that evidence has led to an increase in preventative measures.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman of New Jersey has assembled a task force, which, among other things, aims to teach the public how to identify and assist trafficking victims, according to Reuters.
As this year's host, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been tweeting frequently about sex trafficking at the Super Bowl and his state's commitment to stop it.
But sex trafficking at the Super Bowl isn't just being addressed at a state level. On Monday, the House of Representatives organized a panel to discuss the topic. Members of Congress, activists and survivors of sex trafficking came together in an effort to heighten awareness and review the preventative measures already in place, The Miami Herald reported.
As Bradley Myles and Suzanne Grimes wrote in their HuffPost blog, "This isn't just a Super Bowl problem. It's a national problem."