Multiple Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Busts in Atlanta
Law enforcement agencies working on Super Bowl security made 33 arrests and rescued several victims ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.
America’s greatest sporting event is likely also America’s biggest sex trafficking event. Football fans flock to the host city from everywhere, and along with the festivities comes human sex trafficking as large sporting events can be lucrative events for traffickers.
While people have been arriving in Atlanta for the big game on Sunday all week, the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies jointly arrested 33 people on sex trafficking charges this week. The week before, 16 people were arrested in another Bowl-related incident, thanks to an undercover operation.
DHS agents told NBC News that sex traffickers are attracted to large sporting events. In fact, for the last several years, authorities have had very aggressive campaigns to fight sex trafficking in every host city. Last year in Minneapolis, police conducting sting operations arrested nearly 100 men in the 11 days leading up to the game; most were charged with felonies.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields told NBC that security planning began more than two years ago. It is all hands on deck, with federal, state and local agencies all pitching in to provide Super Bowl security.
Last year, NPR sat down with criminal investigator Marc Chadderdon, who has conducted numerous sting operations like the ones conducted last year in Minnesota. Chadderdon described the victims as typically at-risk youth, often runaways or kids who are arrested for survival-type crimes like shoplifting. Along the journey, the child may meet someone who is nice to them and buys them things. After a while, the trafficker pressures the child to go make money by performing sex acts, in an effort to pay the trafficker back. Because these youth have had negative experiences with law enforcement and even social services, the child will often shield and protect the trafficker.
Nine-Year-Olds Are Being Sold
Chadderdon told NPR that the youngest child he witnessed was a 9-year-old Guatemalan girl who was being sold in rural Minnesota by her own father. The girl’s sister had already been sold; Chadderdon said that Guatemalans are being told there is a market in the U.S. whereby people want to buy kids for sex.
Chadderdon says that the “see something, say something” mantra works very well and encourages people to report suspected trafficking. Sex traffickers are very controlling of their victims, so he asks people to report a suspected situation if they see an adult being unusually controlling of the child’s movements.
The victims often do not know where they are, what town they live in or where they are going, and they usually do not even know the real name of the trafficker. Additionally, victims often carry large amounts of cash, have multiple hotel keys and multiple cell phones which function as burner phones whereby men make appointments with the girls.
For sting operations, investigators run online ads through social media sites or classified ad sites, among others. Even ads in very small towns can have 100 men call. Chadderdon says most people would be very surprised by who answers these ads; they are people from all across the community – every age, race and profession. He has arrested teachers, pastors and even policemen.
January is already Human Sex Trafficking Awareness Month, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN that her city is committed to informing the public and making sure hotel staff and policemen know the signs to look for.
If you are suspicious someone is a victim of human trafficking you can call 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline line at 1-888-373-7888.