Had elected officials done even the slightest research, they would have known it was myth. But this had little to do with protecting women and children. Think of it as a combination religious revival and political scam.
Politicians, women's groups, cops and child advocates were predicting that up to 100,000 hookers would be shipped into Dallas for the Super Bowl. It would be akin to the invasion of Normandy—with silicone and come-hither poses at no extra charge.
Yet someone forgot to tell America's prostitutes they had an appointment with destiny. The arrest numbers are now in. The hookers failed to show.
It was folly from the outset, of course. To buy the hype, you had to believe that the NFL's wealthiest fans stuffed their carry-on luggage with searing libidinal hunger. Though by day they pretended to be mercantile saints from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, they were actually marauding sex fiends. Their plot: Turn Hilton hot tubs into naked versions of the New York Stock Exchange.
And if that wasn't enough to scare the good citizens of Dallas, women's groups slathered the plot with surplus outrage. Up to 38,000 of these hookers would be child sex slaves, according to a study by the Dallas Women's Foundation. They'd presumably been kidnapped en masse while waiting in line at the mall Cinnabon, then shipped to Dallas for deflowering by venture capitalists and frozen-food barons.
America's human trafficking epidemic was coming to North Texas. The Super Bowl would be ground zero.
Conveniently, the same people making the claims reserved the roles of hero for themselves. Worry not, good people of Dallas: They would repel the infidels at the city gates.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott puffed his chest and promised dozens of extra bodies. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security linked arms with 13 state and local police agencies in a task force. Even the airline industry leaped in, training flight attendants to spot the indentured.
Linda Smith, a former Washington congresswoman and founder of Shared Hope International, announced her date with gallantry in The Dallas Morning News. "Now that I know it, I have no choice but to stand and fight," she said. "This is just brutal, brutal slavery of girls."
Deena Graves, executive director of the Christian group Traffick911, took it even further, framing the clash as nothing short of Jesus vs. Depravity. God Himself had naturally anointed her as His general.
"We believe, without a doubt, that God gave us the Super Bowl this year to raise awareness of what's happening with these kids," she told the Morning News.
But since they hadn't bothered to do the research, they would be forced to clash swords with an imaginary foe. Such is the burden of the selfless crusader.
From Germany to Miami, the same hysteria precedes every big sporting event, be it the Super Bowl, the World Cup, or the Olympics. The only difference is that Dallas, befitting its perch as buckle of the Bible Belt, jacked up the decibels.
Before every big game, church bells ring of a massive hooker invasion. Incurious newspapers parrot the claims;a five-minute Google search being too much trouble. Then politicians and activists climb aboard.
The recipe for civic panic is placed in the oven, set for baking to a charred husk.
Yet when each event ends with just a handful of arrests, police admit the invasion was nothing more than myth. The panic whimpers away to seclusion, only to resurrect itself just in time for the next big show.
Detectives from Dallas to Plano, Forth Worth to Irving saw no spikes in sex traffic or signs of the occupiers.
"Everybody else is talking about special operations, the AG comes in talking about special operations, but this is what we do," says Sergeant Byron Fassett, head of the Dallas PD's human trafficking unit. "We didn't have to do a special operation. We do special operations all the time, and this was one of them."
In other words, it was just another week of playing cat and mouse with the world's oldest profession.
Arlington, host to the game, unleashed extra manpower and bagged an impressive 59 arrests. But it found scant evidence of erotic hordes. Of the 100,000 supposedly Lone Star-bound hookers, Deputy Chief Jaime Ayala says, only 13 were found by his guys. Their busts largely involved rousting the local talent.
ICE Spokesman Carl Rusnok says there were 105 prostitution arrests metro-wide. But what was billed as a bare-naked onslaught fell rather short. Just to reach three figures, ICE had to include 12 Class C misdemeanors—the legal equivalent of a speeding ticket.
Rusnok hints at more nefarious busts for human trafficking, but he refuses to provide names, charges or anything else that would allow for verification.
The 38,000 teen slaves also proved elusive. Police managed to find just two—and they were Texas-grown.
Anthony Winn, a 35-year-old degenerate from Austin, had been pimping out a 20-year-old woman when he decided to peddle her 14-year-old sister as well.
The trio showed up in Dallas for the big game. But the older sister objected to the selling of the younger one. So when Dallas police encountered them on the street, the women quickly ratted out Winn.
In Grapevine, another local was busted for chauffeuring a 17-year-old hooker on her rounds.
Meanwhile, church groups and activists were out en masse. But if they were truly aligned with God, He preferred they stick to generating headlines and hurling logs on the flames of panic. He apparently neglected to grant them the power of rescue.
As far as anyone can tell, not one of their tips led to an arrest.
Had anyone bothered to ask police in previous Super Bowl cities, they would have told you this would happen. There's zero evidence that American hookers have ever traveled like Spanish armadas.
As for widespread sex slavery, this too is a myth. The U.S. government has known it for years.
Like most industrialized countries, the feds began worrying about human trafficking in the late '90s, a fear born from the slavery problems of the Third World. At the time, evidence from police suggested it was an insidious, though relatively rare, crime. But that didn't stop politicians and activists from declaring it a pandemic.
Out of thin air, they began to trumpet that 50,000 people were being forcibly trafficked in America each year. The Clinton administration declared jihad. President George W. Bush dilated the war, creating 42 Justice Department task forces countrywide.
But when you weld a fabricated enemy, meager scalp counts leave boasting a challenge. Just like the soldiers of pre-Super Bowl Dallas, they had braced themselves for imaginary strife.
Six years into his presidency, Bush had burned through $150 million on the fray. But of the 300,000 supposed victims during that time, the Justice Department managed to find just 1,362. Less than half were actual sex slaves. An even smaller number were underage prostitutes.
That's because human trafficking, as defined by the government, isn't solely about sex. It's usually about forced labor. Think of the Chinese man made to work in a kitchen to reimburse a snakehead's smuggling fee. Or the Mexican kid forced to toil on a Kansas farm.
By the time anyone realized all that money was flowing for naught, no one was brave enough to tighten the spigot. In Washington, it's far better to waste millions than give the appearance you don't care about kids.
Steve Wagner knows this. He worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serving as director of the Human Trafficking Program under Bush. He threw millions of dollars at community groups to aid victims. Yet as he told the Washington Post in 2007, "Those funds were wasted....They were available to help victims. There weren't any victims."
Ten years into the war, one might assume intellectual honesty would sand down the rhetoric. But the opposite is happening. The fight's simply moved away from protecting women and children. It's now a holy war for the sanctity of revenue streams.
The church and women's groups who profited from battle are loath to acknowledge they spent the past decade doing little more than polishing their guns. So forgive them for worrying.
Recession has made donations harder to field. D.C.'s coming austerity means grants will be macheted. That's left the nonprofit world in a panic.
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It isn't easy to get donors and congressmen to slap down checks for the time-honored fight against prostitution, runaways and kids seeking the fascinating life of a crackhead.
So women's and children's groups simply decided to change their PR. Suddenly, prostitution was no longer about prostitution. It was all about sexual slavery and human trafficking. And they began blowing up their numbers with helium.
But maybe Traffick911's Deena Graves is right. Perhaps God has called her and others to fight demons unseen by the re st of us. It's just that he hasn't given them the power to find all those victims. He does work in mysterious ways, after all.
--With Reporting by Patrick Michels