The Seedier Side Of The Super Bowl: Combating Sex Trafficking

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D'Ann Lawrence White
·8 min read
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TAMPA, FL — The Super Bowl is not just fun and games. Displayed in banners at Tampa International Airport, area hotels and on billboards along Tampa Bay's interstates are reminders of the seedier side of the Super Bowl.

As Tampa prepares to host Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium Feb. 7, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies are ready for a rise in human trafficking.

Anti-human trafficking organizations say Super Bowl sex trafficking is the top event in the country for human traffickers. Outside the stadium, sex trafficking flourishes, with estimates of as many as 10,000 victims flooding host cities to be offered to willing purchasers intent on buying sex.

Human trafficking is basically modern-day slavery. It exploits vulnerable people through fraud, force and coercion into labor or sex.

With the support of the McCain Institute, just before the 2015 Super Bowl in Phoenix, researchers from Arizona State University decided to see if claims of sex trafficking rising around the Super Bowl in host cities were true.

"As sex trafficking awareness increases around the United States, it is critically important that we learn about it and explore it, instead of reacting to theories, myths or conjecture," said Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, one of the Arizona State University researchers. "How we decide to fight the issue must be informed by research that will ultimately support the investment in innovative strategies to combat what is undoubtedly a terrible human experience.”

The researchers compiled what they believe to be "the first comprehensive and systematic review of the quagmire that is the Super Bowl and sex trafficking, and the first attempt to add clarity to a complex, national epidemic," Roe-Sepowitze said.

Their study revealed that "the Super Bowl, or any other large event that provides a significant concentration of people in a relatively confined urban area, becomes a desirable location for traffickers to bring their victims for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation."

While the study emphasized that human trafficking is taking place in the United States 365 days a year, it said there's evidence the Super Bowl is a magnet for sex traffickers from around the world.

"The Super Bowl itself does not create the condition in which trafficking flourishes. Rather, it is the traffickers who seek to exploit an increased concentration of people in a relatively limited geographic area that tends toward an atmosphere where recreation and self-satisfaction are common and the availability of discretionary income is increased," the study concluded.

However, the student said a bigger law enforcement presence alone won't reduce the numbers of human traffickers who follow football fans to the Super Bowl.

"Increased awareness of sex trafficking and its indicators are just as likely to lead to a victim recovery as a law enforcement investigation," said the study. "Police departments are encouraged to work with hotels, motels, resorts, clubs, bars, entertainment venues and any other location where these conditions may occur or be witnessed." Click here to read the full report.

Human Trafficking Committee

Keeping that advice in mind, last year, city, county and state officials developed a sex trafficking awareness campaign along with ramping up law enforcement prior to the Feb. 2 Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

The month before the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers faced off in Miami in last year's Super Bowl, Florida State Attorney Ashley Moody, who's developed a national reputation for her efforts to prosecute human traffickers, was named co-chairwoman of the National Association of Attorneys General Human Trafficking Committee. The group is composed of 56 attorneys general from across the U.S. and its territories.

"Human trafficking is a scourge on society and fighting to end it in Florida has been one of my top priorities since taking office," said Moody.

The committee is working to establish best practices for combating sex trafficking at the state level, including law enforcement and prosecution strategies, educational outreach efforts and alliances with partner agencies and non-governmental organizations.

The result will be a blueprint for Super Bowl host cities to combat human trafficking.

Tampa will be the first city to take advantage of the committee's strategies.

Following the committee's advice, Moody established the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking in Florida, consisting of 15 member prosecutors, legislators, experts in health, education and social services and law enforcement. Among the members is Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, whose office, along with the Tampa Police Department, will be in charge of public safety surrounding the Super Bowl. Florida Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) sits on the council as well.

Recognizing Victims

Efforts have included training sessions with airport personnel, train station employees, bus drivers and taxi drivers, teaching them how to spot and report victims of human trafficking. Pamphlets offering help to victims are now available in on Tampa Bay public buses, train stations, airports and other locations where human traffickers and their victims are found.

Human trafficking experts have provided similar training to hotel and hospitality employees, who have been warned to be extra vigilant during the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

The statewide council even hosted a half-day training course for the Truckers Against Trafficking and the Florida Trucking Association to help truckers recognize traffickers and victims and learn how to report human trafficking activity.

This month, National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Moody also announced the first partnership with an airport to combat human trafficking. Tampa International Airport has launched a campaign designed to raise awareness of human trafficking, posting digital signage around the terminals with messages educating travelers about human trafficking and exploitation and telling them how to report it.

“The signs of human trafficking can be observed by anyone,” said Moody. “And anyone can step up and take action to help.” Click here, to view Moody's message on National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Project GOAT

As part of the airport awareness campaign, travelers will see painted goat statues strategically place through the airport. They are part of Project GOAT, Global Offensive Against Trafficking, a charity launched by a Thonotosassa couple to raise money for organizations that fight human trafficking.

Rob and Debbie, who own a goat farm in Thonotosassa, started Project Goat in 2019 in anticipation of the Super Bowl coming to Tampa in 2021.

The couple is also the founders of the Grady Goat Foundation, which raises money for local charities, and Rob Canton is the president and CEO of the nonprofit organization, Athletes and Causes.

The goat statues on display at the airport are a sampling of the 55 goats that will be auctioned off to raise money to fight human trafficking.

The original goat sculpture was completed by artist Scott Joseph Moore in February 2019.

Each goat weighs about 75 pounds, stands 48 inches tall (including the base height) and is 60 inches long.

The goat statues were cast by Moore using cast stone, which was developed for the architectural industry for exterior building embellishment. The goats were then painted by local artists. To view them, click here.

On Feb. 6, the day before the Super Bowl game, the goats will be sold at a charity auction at ZooTampa at Lowry Park.

The outdoor event, which will be attended by a who's who of sports and entertainment celebrities, will include music, drinks and food. The GOAT artists will bring additional artworks to be auctioned and a variety of sports memorabilia will be sold to the highest bidders.

The event will not only support the fight against human trafficking, but will showcase the entire family of Athletes and Causes Foundation charities, including those of former Yankee/Red Sox player Johnny Damon, Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin, Houston Astros pitchers Lance McCullers Jr. and Joe Smith, NBA on TNT reporter Allie LaForce, Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Eli Ankou, and rro Cyclist Shayna Powless.

For tickets, click here.

It's A Penalty

Also joining the fight against human trafficking in Tampa is the nonprofit It's a Penalty campaign, which has recruited celebrities in the film, sports and music communities to provide public service announcements on human trafficking.

‘Trafficking isn’t always obvious, so it’s important to know the signs to look out for. Together we can end human trafficking and exploitation” said Liam Neeson, one of the spokesman for It's a Penalty. "It’s shocking that almost 25 million people are trafficked and exploited every year and one in four victims are under the age of 18."

Tampa has the 12th highest rate of calls per capita made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and Florida has the third highest rate of human trafficking cases reported. Last year during the Super Bowl in Miami, 44 human traffickers and customers were arrested.

To learn how to spot and report human trafficking, click here or report suspected human trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.

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This article originally appeared on the Tampa Patch