Super Bowl Sunday's Dark Side: Big Game Attracts Child Sex Traffickers

Dallas Cops ready for influx in child sex crimes during Super Bowl weekend.

January 25, 2011, 5:36 PM

Feb. 1, 2011 — -- When fans flock to the Dallas Cowboys' stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, few will be thinking about anything other than touchdowns and tailgates.

But nearby, in hotels, motels and on street corners, Texas authorities say a "dark side" will exist, one where children are sold for sex by pimps. And those sex traffickers are descending on the area.

"People are thinking of the Packers and the Steelers and the game on the field, having a good time and Super Bowl commercials. Most don't think about a 12-year-old being forced to dance naked," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told ABC News.

"There are several things at play here. There are maybe 100,000 or more coming in and out of town for a single event, and it seems to be a testosterone filled event," said Abbott. "The Super Bowl is a magnet for child sex traffickers."

Texas is creating a task force of federal, state and city agencies to combat child trafficking in Arlington during the big game.

"The link is that with any sort of major event and planned event there is going to be unfortunately corresponding influx of various crimes," said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of the task force because of its expertise in international child trafficking.

"And one of those very unfortunately is going to be prostitution and or the child prostitution or more directly human trafficking," Rusnok said.

Abbott said that Texas law enforcement officials wanted to "get ahead of the curve" this year in combating the problem of child prostitution during the Super Bowl after hearing stories from Miami Beach and Tampa, where the last two Super Bowls were held.

During the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami Beach, child outreach professionals said they saw a surge in young women working the streets in the week leading up to the big game. Many of the young girls they spoke with told outreach experts that they'd been brought to the area by pimps hoping to profit from the game.

"We saw at least four times as many, if not more, young women on the streets," said Sandy Skelaney, who headed the Super Bowl outreach project at Kristi House, a child advocacy organization in Miami.

"We know for a fact that we had contact with several girls who were out of state who told us that they came [to Florida] to work the Super Bowl," said Skelaney.

While Super Bowl Sunday is a party for most people, the toll on many of the ex-prostitutes is apparent among those who have been rescued from pimps and are now in counseling. The girls exhibit high anxiety and stress as the annual spectacle approaches, Skelany said.

"My clients were experiencing a lot of triggers [around Super Bowl time], we had a lot of extra therapy sessions," she said.

Brad Dennis, the director of the KlaasKids Foundation, an advocacy group that works to find missing children, many of whom may have become involved in child prostitution, has traveled to the past two Super Bowl host cities and plans to travel to Dallas ahead of this year's game.

Like Skelaney, Dennis said that the child prostitutes he has met with on the eve of the big games tell him that they're there because there is such a great demand for their services.

"The Super Bowl is a traffickers playground," said Dennis, "You have an influx of money and the party atmosphere."

Dennis said that one group of girls he spoke to last year told him that they had been "resting up for the Super Bowl in Atlanta," and others when asked why they were in Miami responded, "Why do you think? It's the Super Bowl."

"This is a side of the Super Bowl that we don't want to talk about. It's supposed to be fun," he said. "But unfortunately you can't just ignore it either. It's time that people recognize that this is going on."

Skelaney and a group of more than 150 volunteers roamed the streets of Miami Beach that Super Bowl weekend, approaching girls who were under the control of pimps and handing out cards with hotline numbers.

According to the group's data, 14 leads were generated regarding missing children, six children were recovered and volunteers made contact with 23 young women who were potential victims of sexual exploitation.

The majority of the females the group encountered during their sweeps were those who had traveled from outside the state, many of whom said the Super Bowl had been the draw for their pimps.

Additionally, monitoring of online message boards such as Craigslist and showed an increased number of ads for escorts. Prior to the Super Bowl, there were 38 ads and then two days prior to the game there were 192 ads, said Skelaney.

While there is no way to know for sure how many of these ads are actually advertizing underage women, Dennis said trained professionals know to look for key words in the ads, such as "pretty," "young" and "tender." Heavy makeup on the girls -- perhaps in an attempt to make them look older than they actually are -- is also a common technique online, he said.

In 2009, in the days leading up to the Super Bowl held in Tampa, agents arrested two alleged pimps who had advertized the sexual services of a 14-year-old girl in a Craigslist ad titled, "Super Bowl Special," according to news reports at the time.

Police in Phoenix, Ariz., where the 2008 Super Bowl was played, broke up a child prostitution ring that they believed at the time had come specifically for the championship game.

Sgt. Joel Tranter, who was the public information officer for the Phoenix Police Department during the Super Bowl, told ABC News that the agency was aware that pimps who are involved in a "prostitution circuit" were coming to the area to profit off the Super Bowl.

A spokesman for, an online classified website that has been known to host sexually explicit ads like the ones authorities want to deter, issued a statement regarding the upcoming game.

" is committed to preventing those who are intent on misusing the site for illegal purposes and for that reason we have instituted additional staff to review and monitor ads posted in the Dallas section during the Super Bowl," said company spokesman Steve Suskin. "We have also implemented a series of new safety enhancements over the past several months to better protect our communities and will continue to further increase our safety practices."

Messages left for were not immediately returned.

Ernie Allen, who heads the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the problem of child sex trafficking isn't only a problem on Super Bowl weekend.

"There is nothing inherently evil or inappropriate about the Super Bowl. It's an extraordinary event and a national treasure, but this is all about supply and demand," said Allen. "What the traffickers do is gravitate to situations where there are large numbers of people and lots of money at these magna type of events."

"These operators go to where the action is," he said.

"We've been trying to call attention to it simply to make sure that the community is vigilant and prepared,' said Allen. "South Florida agencies did a great job last year of keeping it under control and even though there were some problems it was far less than anticipated."

Allen estimates that there are more than 100,000 American kids who are victimized through child prostitution and child trafficking in the U.S. each year.

"The typical American citizen hears the term child trafficking and thinks it happens somewhere else, but what we've demonstrated is that it is happening on Main Street, U.S.A.," he said.

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