Debunking the Myth of ‘Super Bowl Sex Trafficking’: Media hype or evidenced-based coverage


  • Lauren Martin
  • Annie Hill



human trafficking, sports, media coverage, action research, public perceptions, Super Bowl


A large body of scholarship has described the narrow set of media narratives used to report trafficking for sexual exploitation to the public. This article examines US media coverage of human trafficking in relation to the Super Bowl, American football’s championship game. Available empirical evidence does not suggest that major sporting events cause trafficking for sexual exploitation. Yet, we find that 76 per cent of US print media from 2010 to 2016 propagated the ‘Super Bowl sex trafficking’ narrative. Local coverage of the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was different, presenting a sceptical stance toward this narrative. The article describes how this substantial shift resulted from our research group and anti-trafficking stakeholders employing an action research approach to craft a Super Bowl communication strategy that aligned with empirical evidence. Although sensationalist narratives are difficult to dislodge, the Minnesota case shows that evidence on trafficking can be effectively used to inform media and impact public perceptions, when researchers work with stakeholders on the ground. Lessons learnt are shared to enable others to replicate these results.


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Author Biographies

Lauren Martin

Lauren Martin PhD is the Director of Research at the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center and affiliated faculty with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She directs the UROC initiative on sex trading, has authored community and scholarly publications, and helped to develop programmes, prevention efforts and policy related to sex trading and trafficking. She is currently writing a book on trustworthy knowledge production, action research and sex trading.

Annie Hill

Annie Hill PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas, Austin. Her scholarly publications focus on sexual violence, sex work and trafficking in the United States and the United Kingdom. She is on research teams for a Sexual Violence Prevention Collaboratory and a Sex Trading, Trafficking and Community Well-Being Initiative. She is also a curator for The Gender Policy Report.




How to Cite

Martin, L., & Hill, A. (2019). Debunking the Myth of ‘Super Bowl Sex Trafficking’: Media hype or evidenced-based coverage. Anti-Trafficking Review, (13), 13–29.