California is facing an impending surge. January 2016 will bring thousands of visitors to the state for the Super Bowl, eagerly seeking football, parties and, quite possibly, commercial sex.

Projections

While prevalence studies have yet to be conducted to confirm an increase in trafficking activity in host locations during the events, projections can be made based on the economic principle of supply and demand. In the case of trafficking, as demand increases, theoretically, so will supply.

"Though the Super Bowl is a fleeting event, it may provide the national spotlight California needs to permanently strengthen the state’s response to trafficking." 

Under current state laws, California is ill-equipped to handle an influx of trafficking crimes. California earns consistently poor scores for its laws addressing child sex trafficking. Despite strong efforts of dedicated advocates and willing legislators, California faces a difficult fiscal environment and a federal mandate banning an increase in criminal statutes. This limits the state’s ability to enact tougher laws to impose substantial penalties and felony convictions for perpetrators—deterrent measures that could carry a hefty fiscal impact. Leaders have developed work-around solutions by reprogramming agency systems to strengthen response.

Crafting a game plan

Though they are commendable, the verdict is still out on whether these efforts will adequately deter buyers and traffickers from capitalizing on a booming market in a vulnerable state.

As states consistently face these risks, a movement is rapidly developing to create sophisticated tactics to tackle trafficking during large events. Arizona, host of the 2015 Super Bowl, developed a long-term, multi-agency strategy utilizing public awareness campaigns, aggressive enforcement of anti-demand laws and comprehensive, victim-centered approaches to create a culture of zero tolerance for commercial sex.

A study published by Arizona State University comparing the number of online classified advertisements selling sex and potential customer response to test ads in New Jersey and Phoenix, the 2014 and 2015 Super Bowl hosts respectively, found a less significant increase in the number of published ads and potential customer response in Phoenix. These findings suggest the state’s efforts successfully increased the level of perceived risk associated with engaging in commercial sex in Phoenix.

Though the Super Bowl is a fleeting event, it may provide the national spotlight California needs to permanently strengthen the state’s response to trafficking.