Volunteers and field workers from across the country are working with urban agencies to use the largest sporting event in the United States to open the public eye to trafficking in human beings, the crime of forcing someone to practice sex or work for profit.
Some groups claim that the influx of crowds for the Super Bowl contributes to increased child trafficking. The head of the anti-trafficking group, such as the Polaris project and the International Institute for Human Trade, says they do not agree. Human trafficking takes place all year round in communities across the country, they say, and this is where prevention efforts are most needed.
But it does not stop the groups from reaching or the city of Atlanta from having a problem in the Super Bowl.
The nature of trafficking in human beings – whether work or gender – is complex, said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for CNN Freedom Project. This is why the city is now expanding its message when it comes to the public.
"The Super Bowl is an opportunity to talk about it, but it's something we need to be alert about 12 months a year," said Mayor of Atlantis Keisha Lance Bottoms of CNN. "It's about making sure that the thousands of men and women working in our hotels understand what they mean, so our police officers understand what they mean.
What groups do
Theresa Flores arrived in Atlanta in mid-January with more than 60,000 soapy soaps.
Each of them has the message: "Are you forced to do anything you do not want to do? Are you at risk if you try to leave?" HELP BE FREE 233733. "
Flores says he is a survivor of human trafficking and the founder of S.O.P. – "Save Our Adolescents From Prostitution" – a nine-year, nonprofit project aimed at raising awareness of trafficking in human beings.
In the recent weekend, Flores says about 200 volunteers have delivered soapy soap – along with missing-child posters and trading tracking tips – to more than 330 hotels in Atlanta.
"If you're talking to the housewives, do it," Flores said to the volunteers in the congress hall before they ran across town in three-member groups.
"Have valuable information about things that no one else sees, talk to them about red flags."
According to Polaris, there are no official estimates of the total number of trafficked people in the United States. The group estimates that the nationwide number is in the hundreds of thousands when aggregating estimates of adults and minors, trafficking in human beings and trafficking in human beings.
Polaris's National Contact Line for Human Traffic keeps what is considered one of the most extensive human trafficking data files in the United States.
Of the 27201 telephone calls received, the hotline was 691 from Georgia, which represents 2.54% of the calls. The hotline is just the reported cases. Experts say the number of trafficked people is likely to be much higher.
"Super Bowl does not raise trafficking in human beings, sexual buyers increase trafficking in human beings," said Nita Belles, founder and CEO of In Our Backyard. The anti-trafficking group established a business in Atlanta for 10 days to hold public information meetings on trafficking signs and what to expect during the Super Bowl.
The group also operates a "Command Center" in an undisclosed location where they are looking for missing children who might be involved in trading. A big poster hanging on the wall with photos of missing girls. Volunteers sit at the tables in front of laptops scanning ads for dark web escorts. They select the relevant data that leads to passing on to agents involved in criminal proceedings on the other side of the provisional wall.
One volunteer, Cheryl Csiki, says she was traded for sex as a child. She started to work voluntarily in our yard four years ago.
"It's heartbreaking when I hear it happened," she said. "That's why I'm getting up every day … we have to save the kids."
Is the Super Bowl Magnet for People?
The connection between the Super Bowl and the trafficking of human beings has been discussed for many years. Past news warned that crowds inflated trafficking in human beings. But Polaris and others claim that no evidence supports the causal relationship between the two.
The National Human Traffic Contact Line sees "gentle upticks" in calls and reports during the Super Bowl weekend, Polaris spokesman Brandon Bouchard said. But Polaris attributes support to increased hotline support rather than increased trafficking in Super Bowl weekends, he said. If someone calls Super Bowl weekend for being trafficked, "it was very likely he would be traded before," Bouchard said.
The FBI traditionally sees uptick in online demand during major events such as the Super Bowl, said spokesman Kevin Rowson. "The problem exists not only in major sporting events but throughout the year in communities across the country."
In front of the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in 2018, the Minnesota Women's Minnesota Foundation of Minnesota has asked to explore scientific evidence that the Super Bowl is causing the rise of sexual trafficking, Lauren Martin, director of research at the University of Minnesota, cities that conducted the study.
The study found that empirical data supports the statement that the Super Bowl "as well as many other large and localized public events correlate with the increase in the number of online commercial sex commercials in the host city."
"But it seems that the Super Bowl does not have the greatest impact and evidence suggests that the impact is short-lived," the authors wrote in a research report.
The study states that the first documented concerns about the impact of major sporting events on trafficking in human beings were for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in Greece. The manifestations of a large number of trafficking victims did not materialize, but the response "set a template" for host cities and non- organizations deal with trafficking in subsequent major international sporting events, including the Super Bowls, UROC reports.
The authors said media and other users have found a tendency in different host cities to "recycle unjustified and exaggerated numbers" of potential trading due to increased demand caused by the event.
The authors highlighted the potential disadvantages of public awareness campaigns and the display of law enforcement as a form of "rescue". Some campaigns – through their language and images – show human trafficking equivalent to kidnapping. Victims are often reduced to the stereotypes of young, naive white women who need rescue, according to a study.
Victims, however, experience both apparent and subtle forms of manipulation, violence and exploitation. "Despite the emphasis on a complete lack of physical freedom, it may be harder for many individuals to see themselves in anti-trafficking campaigns," the authors said.
In addition, this type of campaign depiction suggests that only some types of victims are worthy of help, making it too simple for "social, economic and other pressures in the commercial sex industry," the authors said.
This brief also highlights the possible negative impacts of enhanced police campaigns. Not all victims of human trafficking respond positively to law enforcement for various reasons, the authors said, and some have had a negative experience with the police in the past. Research by the authors shows that even for victims of trafficking who leave the commercial sex trade is a process that takes time and should follow the self-assessment of each individual according to their needs. "
Aneco, Polaris has heard that during the Super Bowl weekend there are more "prostitutions" of arrest, Bouchard said. "But this is largely related to the fact that it enforces just law enforcement." And the trend in law enforcement is focused on arresting traffickers and those who want to buy sex, not sex workers or trafficked people, he said.
During the Super Bowl exhibition in 2018, a multi-purpose operation took part in a "recovery initiative" to arrest those seeking sex for the purpose of selling and providing social services to merchants, said the Minneapolis Police Department.
For more than 10 days, 89 people were arrested for sex, according to department data, seven accused dealers were arrested. In addition, 20 women identified as "proceeds" were associated with social services instead of being arrested, said the spokesperson.
Already in Atlanta, 33 people in the metro area were arrested this week, Interior Minister Kirstjen Nielsen said at a press conference Wednesday. Four people were "rescued," she said.
Days of Arrest "were specially selected to be located near the Super Bowl, as it is always the time of increased prostitution and fraudulent activity in the host city," the department said.
What's lost in hype
Focusing on sex trafficking during the Super Bowl threatens to focus resources for just one week, says Bouchard with Polaris and only for trafficking in human beings, "when it is necessary to focus year-round and on all types of human trafficking, the United States," he said .
Another drawback is that they manage funding and response to human trafficking at the expense of overshadowing trafficking in human beings.
But the Super Bowl brings together stakeholders to create the very necessary responses and preventive approaches to trafficking, he said.
"We are just supporting efforts to realize that this is a problem that needs to be addressed throughout the year."