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Tampa Uber Drivers Trained to Spot Trafficking and Sex Buyers Arrested Ahead of Super Bowl LV Weekend

Even though the Super Bowl looks different in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, human traffickers aren't practicing social distancing.

By February 5, 2021No Comments

It’s no secret that large events that bring thousands of people together from all over, like the Super Bowl, have long been hubs for trafficking and sexual exploitation.

For Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, the trafficking situation is—unfortunately—similar to other years even though this event looks different in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, human traffickers aren’t practicing social distancing like so many others.

The Florida Dream Center explains that Florida is 3rd in the nation for human trafficking across the U.S. The Tampa Bay area, including Pinellas County, is one of the greatest problem areas in the state. There are between 100,000 – 300,000 sex trafficking victims under 18 in the U.S. per year.

Related: 9 Surprising Facts About Human Trafficking In The U.S.

As ClickOrlando.com reports, the Super Bowl “is America’s biggest sporting event, the commercials, the halftime show and the game itself, but law enforcement officers say with any large scale event comes the potential for illegal activity.”

But the city is finding ways to fight back and be proactive against this exploitation.

“With entertainment events such as the Super Bowl, there is an increase in human trafficking,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said.

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Arrese made ahead of Super Bowl weekend, Tampa ridesharing drivers trained to spot the signs

To prepare for professional football’s biggest weekend, the Florida Attorney General’s office partnered with Uber, virtually teaching thousands of drivers how to spot and report human trafficking while picking up passengers.

Drivers should be on the lookout for people who appear afraid, anxious or paranoid, or someone with physical injuries like burns or branding. Someone who speaks as if they’re being coached is also a red flag, according to experts.

In the week leading up to last year’s Super Bowl in Miami, authorities arrested 44 people and rescued 22 victims of human trafficking, according to Moody.

At this year’s Super Bowl in Tampa, authorities are preparing for more arrests.

On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in January, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office announced 71 people were arrested in a month-long investigation known as “Operation Interception.” The operation, according to HCSO, was created to “combat human trafficking leading up to the Super Bowl coming to Tampa in February 2021.”

“Like any major sporting event, the Super Bowl should not be a venue where these types of crimes occur on the sidelines, whether it’s before, during, or after the game,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “We know from past experiences with major sporting events that there will be some who travel for the exclusive purpose of taking advantage of women and children. I want to make it very clear, if you are planning to engage in the sexual exploitation of others, I’m urging you to think twice. We will find you, and you will be arrested.”

Some other measures that have been taken to stop sex trafficking that’s connected to the rise in tourists due to the Super Bowl include Hillsborough County’s “signs up” to its “masks on” code enforcement mission ahead of Super Bowl 55.

Related: Hotels, Motels, And Transit: How Workers In These Industries Are Cracking Down On Sex Trafficking

Last week, officers from county code enforcement, the Tampa Police Department and the city’s Neighborhood Enforcement Division visited three dozen adult businesses to ensure compliance with the Hillsborough County human trafficking ordinance.

The “Don’t Buy It, Tampa Bay” campaign, devised by FKQ Marketing, runs through June 2021 with an emphasis on activity during the upcoming Super Bowl. Image credit to FKQ Marketing.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that the ordinance requires strip clubs, adult bookstores and theaters and other sexually oriented businesses to post signs providing information—in multiple languages—about how victims of human trafficking can get help.

The Tampa Bay Times also reports that the county ramped up an advertising and promotional blitz about the dangers of human trafficking. “Don’t buy it, Tampa Bay” is to be featured on billboards, social media, print advertisements and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses. The campaign began in November and continues through June, but the early, heavy push coincides with the build-up to the Super Bowl.

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How to spot the signs of trafficking and report them

Law enforcement officers say one of the key components to cracking down on human trafficking long term is having the public be able to spot the signs.

For that reason, law enforcement also works with the hospitality industry, like hotel employees, training them how to spot trafficking, according to Orlando Police Sgt. Brad Bakeman.

“Some of the big things are going to nice hotels paying with cash,” Bakeman said. “Cash deposits, they will have an older gentleman with two young girls, three young girls with them.”

Related: By The Numbers: Is The Porn Industry Connected To Sex Trafficking?

The increased attention around the Super Bowl is good, according to Megan Cutter the Director of the National Human Trafficking Hotline, but the attention should last year-round.

Here’s a helpful guide posted to YouCanStopHT.com to help train the public to know what to look for.

This helpful guide informs the public of how to spot human trafficking. Image from YouCanStopHT.com.

If you see something, be sure to say something and call the proper authorities. Remember that trafficking happens every day around the United States, and the world.

The connection between porn and sex trafficking

This is why we exist to stop the demand for sexual exploitation and raise awareness on its connection to pornography.

It may surprise you to learn that one of the biggest humanitarian crises the world is dealing with today is trafficking, and more specifically, sex trafficking. And when sex trafficking and porn are placed side by side, the common thought is that they are miles apart. However, all it takes is a look at the research and survivor stories to give us a much different conclusion.

Related: Phil’s Story: I Bought Sex From A Woman While On Vacation, Not Realizing She Was A Trafficking Victim

Part of our campaign to raise awareness on the harmful effects of porn includes shining a bright spotlight on porn’s relationship with human trafficking. But how could this be true? Because, thanks to an increasing number of survivor stories and studies on the connection, we see:

  • Porn, oftentimes, is recorded evidence of sex trafficking.
  • Porn directly fuels the demand for exploitation and sex trafficking.

For an average porn consumer, there is no way to know where their pornography came from and if the actors are performing willingly. Click here to learn more about how porn and sex trafficking are inextricalbly linked.

No matter how good or “fun” something in the adult entertainment world looks, they may not be there by choice.

So by clicking pornography, consumers are supporting the demand for an industry that is deeply connected with sex trafficking. Stop the demand by refusing to click porn, and reporting any suspected trafficking-related activity you may see.

Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 for other tips and to report suspected trafficking.