AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 100,000 people are expected to flock to the Circuit of Americas Sunday for the United States Grand Prix in Austin.
But as the major international event brings a spotlight on Texas’ Capitol, also illuminated are concerns about whether the high volume of travelers will increase the possibilities of human trafficking and kidnapping for modern slavery.
Back in 2019, KXAN took a look at recent research showing there’s not a link between F1 races and increases in trafficking events.
“What we found was for every single crime type, we found no significant increase in the crimes on the race weekend at all,” said Alex Piquero, criminology professor at the University of Texas Dallas. “So that’s a really good finding for the citizens of the city of Austin, for the Austin Police Department, for the state of Texas, as well as for the fans and for the Formula One organization, because that means the event here in Austin is a really safe event.”
Piquero led the study, “Do (sex) crimes increase during the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix?‘, in collaboration with Monash University in Australia. Researchers examined Austin Police Department data from before, during and after the 2018 Formula 1 Grand Prix race in Austin.
Research focused on incidents of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated promotion of prostitution, kidnapping prostitution, and trafficking — all associated to sex and human trafficking. While researchers explained their study to be “the most extensive academic look” at this issue, they noted that some limitations exist.
The challenge here is that it’s often difficult to collect data on sex crimes because existence of evidence depends on police actions (like arrests). Additionally, under-reporting by victims can’t be factored in.
Researchers say they hoped their findings helped inform Formula 1 and other similar events going forward.
“The findings of our study should provide some comfort to public officials that the event is being staged in a safe manner, at least from a crime perspective—and especially with respect to sex/human trafficking offenses which is a key aspect of the State’s requirement for the COTA track,” the publication in the journal reads.
On its website, F1 explains the company’s commitment to combat the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking in relation to its events, which includes conducting risk assessments for areas chosen for races and working with local promoters to find their measures to mitigate risks. F1 says staff are trained on identifying signs of modern slavery and human trafficking risks and that possible incidents are closely monitored.
In the study, researchers explain there’s a “long-standing perception” that major sporting events increase risks of sex trafficking — including the Super Bowl. Leading anti-trafficking groups like the Polaris Project and the International Human Trafficking Institute have said before that no evidence supports the claim that the Super Bowl and other major events increase sex trafficking.
Local advocates feel similarly, said Steven Phenix, the public relations director at the Refuge for DMST, a nonprofit in the Austin-area which has created a long-term community for minors who have been rescued out of sex trafficking.
“The Super Bowl thing is a myth and movies like ‘Taken’ are also a myth,” Phenix said. “And there’s a false hysteria going around that doesn’t help anyone. “
Sex trafficking, Phenix explained, happens, “365 days a year and not just when Formula One comes to town or when the Super Bowl happens.”
If you believe you may have information related to a human trafficking situation, you call, text or instant message the National Human Trafficking Hotline.