February 4, 2018, Orlando, FL
A note from Florida Abolitionist Founder and CEO, Tomas J. Lares
I had the privilege and opportunity to be a part of the first outreach against human trafficking at a large sporting event. In 2009, I joined other advocates in Tampa Bay Florida to take a stand against human trafficking at Super Bowl XLIII.
On February 1, 2009, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals were prepared for a battle and so were law enforcement, investigators, intelligence analysts and victim advocates.
As we prepared that week we had no idea what we would encounter. At the time, traffickers and pimps were posting ads on Craigslist. The week prior to Super Bowl the number of ads for prostitution were “normal” for the Tampa Bay area. The week of Super Bowl there was a significant increase. Why the increase? Traffickers and pimps were bringing more of their “merchandise” to satisfy the increased demand for sex trafficking. It was very evident as well that these ads were targeting the buyers that were coming in for the Super Bowl.
Most of the sex trafficking and exploitation were being done in the local motels and hotels. We were able to gather leads for investigators and law enforcement during the outreach. We were also active distributing flyers for the missing children in that zip code. We asked businesses around the stadium to post the flyers in public locations. It was shocking that many of the businesses did not feel comfortable posting these missing children flyers or posters with the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
In recent years, efforts have continued to stop human trafficking in cities where the Super Bowl takes place. This year, there have been wonderful efforts in Minneapolis. We hope and pray they are effectively preventing and stopping human trafficking.
The sad truth of the matter is that Super Bowl is only one of the many sporting events or conventions that draw this type of activity. We must be vigilant and intentional of this criminal activity throughout the year. In each of our communities, we must stand and say, “Not on our watch.”