LOS ANGELES, Calif.—Advocates and hospitality agencies are on high alert as the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 is expected to make human trafficking worse.
As the big game arrives at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is partnering with It’s a Penalty—a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending human trafficking in partnership with the National Football League (NFL).
“We ask our guests to continue to be vigilant and if you see something, say something,” LAX spokesperson Heath Montgomery told The Epoch Times. “Public vigilance plays a huge role in aviation security, and this includes reporting suspected human trafficking.”
Around the airport, travelers can find signs in all the terminals and restrooms with information on how to report suspicious activities, Montgomery said.
To ensure travels remain safe, Airport Police Officers and frontline airport staff trained to spot signs of human trafficking will also be on high alert.
Stating “Prevention saves lives” on its Instagram account, It’s a Penalty has several ongoing projects focused on informing the public about how to stop human trafficking as early as possible.
Days before the game, volunteers from It’s a Penalty gathered on Feb. 8 to pack hundreds of bags filled with materials to help local hotel staff better identify red flags and missing children, according to the nonprofit’s Instagram account.
The organization also partnered with ride-sharing company Uber to distribute to drivers in Los Angeles over 2,000 rear-view mirror hang tags with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number.
While some news reports this week have been trying to “debunk” the “myth” that the Super Bowl is driving up human trafficking, Los Angeles law enforcement officials have spoken out against disassociating the mega-event with the increase in human trafficking.
“Just last weekend, 14 individuals were arrested for sex trafficking-related offenses at a single hotel associated with Super Bowl activities, with a number of those arrested traveling from other regions of the country. Isolated? Not at all,” Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michael Moore wrote in a Feb. 11 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times.
Referring to the Los Angeles Times’ Feb. 6 editorial on the topic as “callous remarks,” Moore wrote, “Just as the region has seen a flood of counterfeit merchandise and other illicit opportunists related to the Super Bowl, sex trafficking similarly follows.”
Prior to Moore’s response, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva warned residents on Jan. 12 that human traffickers are attracted to the mega event.
“This is … always a lead-up to the Super Bowl, which ends up being one of the major events that draws human traffickers to the region,” Villanueva said.
The sheriff further urged residents to report potential cases of human trafficking to their local law enforcement.
During major sporting events, there has been a “significant increase in the number of calls reporting suspected cases of human trafficking and exploitation to reporting hotlines,” according to the official website of It’s a Penalty.
According to the organization, 47 traffickers were arrested, and 22 victims were identified during the Miami 2020 Super Bowl, where the National Human Trafficking Hotline received an increase of 163 percent in calls compared with the previous Super Bowl.
In the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta, the FBI arrested 169 people involved in trafficking schemes, and an increase of 23.6 percent more calls was reported compared to the 2018 Super Bowl.
The 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis also reported a 300-percent spike in hotline calls, according to the organization.
Statistics for the 2021 Super Bowl held in Tampa, Florida, is unavailable.
While human trafficking cases are expected to increase as Super Bowl approaches, Los Angeles County in general is has been one of the nation’s top destinations for human trafficking, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. California held the highest reported cases in 2020, according to the human trafficking hotline, with Texas and Florida following closely behind.
To combat human trafficking, the District Attorney’s Office is asking government leaders, activists, law enforcement, and business communities to help raise public awareness.
A campaign to bring awareness was launched in January in an attempt to hold traffickers accountable and get survivors the help they needed, according to a Feb. 8 news brief from the District Attorney’s Office.