COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — With flowing beer taps, tensions running high and large gatherings, it’s often said that rates of domestic violence and human trafficking spike during the Super Bowl.
Abuse prevention experts, however, say that’s a myth.
In reality, the two crimes occur every day, and experts say there’s no evidence connecting the Super Bowl — which will take place this year between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC4 — to increased rates.
Maria Busch, an anti-trafficking coordinator for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said despite concerns that people could be snatched up as people travel to and from Los Angeles for the game, human trafficking occurs every day — and typically not via stranger abductions.
“If we focus all our efforts on a single point and time and a single location when we know (human trafficking) happens all the time, it can minimize what people experience in their normal lives,” she said.
As a trafficking prevention advocate, Busch said she rarely sees human trafficking cases that involve people who are abducted by strangers. Most often, it occurs between a perpetrator and victim that already have a relationship.
“Traffickers are often fulfilling a role in someone’s life — romantic partner, family member, friend, sibling, cousin — but typically trafficking happens where that trust is already built, part of why human trafficking is so difficult to identify,” Busch said.
By succumbing to the “stranger danger” panic — a concern Busch said is overblown — other contexts in which human trafficking occurs might be overlooked, she said.
Traffickers often seek out people in vulnerable situations, like runaway homeless youth or people who lack strong support systems, as those are the people they can most easily exploit, Busch said. And there are myriad ways in which trafficking presents itself — like coercing a person to work for little to no wages or parents who traffic their children to feed a drug addiction.
“The myth can cause us to think about human trafficking in one specific way, and so we’re missing what it looks like in big chunks,” she said.
As for domestic violence, Lillian Howard, director of clinical and supportive services at LSS Choices, said her office “certainly” does not see a spike in calls from people seeking domestic violence support during Super Bowl Sunday.
Although alcohol consumption and shouting at the TV may increase during the game, Howard said perpetrators don’t need to have a reason to abuse their victims.
“Domestic violence is something that happens on a daily basis, and abusers don’t necessarily have to be drinking to take something out on their victim,” she said.
Howard said the urban legend correlating the Super Bowl with increased rates of domestic violence might reflect a desire for the public — especially those who haven’t experienced domestic violence — to assign blame to something in hopes of wrapping their heads around a complex, abusive relationship.
“A lot of times people want to come up with an excuse – why a perpetrator harms a victim or children or pets in the household,” Howard said. “And they don’t understand there doesn’t have to be a reason.”
In reality, abusers are habitually seeking opportunities to manipulate their victims, she said.
“The relationship itself is based on power and control,” Howard said. “The perpetrator or abuser has all the power — and that is not an equal relationship.”
Although efforts to crack down on human trafficking during the Super Bowl are often based on inaccurate assumptions, Busch said one of the perks of the myth is that it gets people talking about trafficking.
“Any time we have a concerted effort to identify human trafficking, I think that’s a great thing, whether that is during the Super Bowl or not,” Busch said. “Any time we identify resources, I think that is an ultimate good.”
If that increased awareness can be funneled into a more accurate education about what human trafficking looks like, Busch said the public will be better equipped to identify and stop it from occurring.
Contact LSS Choices’ domestic violence hotline at 614-224-4663 and the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.