The hordes of people flocking to this year’s Super Bowl might be an attractive target for human traffickers looking to make new clients
Thousands of fans will descend on New York and New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII — and experts say human traffickers will be lurking behind them.
The criminals, as with past Super Bowls, hope to use the large crowds to sell people forced into prostitution. Their hope is that they will find illicit clients who may be more willing to engage in reckless behavior, experts say.
Law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups in both states have been gearing up for the problem for more than year. While people are partying during the game, officials will be running undercover operations, monitoring online classifieds and passing out fliers in hopes of thwarting the crimes.
“Anytime there is a large event that is primarily male-attended and there’s a party atmosphere, that will result in incidents of human trafficking,” said Nita Belles, who has worked during the last four Super Bowls with a coalition to prevent trafficking. “There is a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality.”
Highlights of the article…
- The party atmosphere surrounding the big game may be an enticement for some to break the law
- Law enforcement agencies say they will be at the game in full force
- ‘We want people to be safe’, New Jersey assistant attorney general says
That attitude is what traffickers hope to capitalize on, she said.
This year, Belles, regional director of Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans, is working with several other advocacy groups to run “Blitz the Trafficker.” As part of the campaign, experienced coalition members will attend events surrounding the game. There, they will hand out fliers with missing children’s photos, New Jersey’s trafficking hotline number and information about signs that someone is being trafficked.
It’s important work for Belles. She said during New Orleans’ Super Bowl last year she and several others drove two underage college women back to their dorms at 2 a.m. after a pair of men began harassing them.
Tracy Thompson, an assistant attorney general of New Jersey and chair of the state’s human trafficking task force, said officials are well prepared to catch traffickers and rescue victims.
Within the last year, dozens of police officers, hotel staff members, taxi drivers and truckers have been trained to recognize when someone is in danger, she said. On Jan. 24, New Jersey will also host a human trafficking awareness event in Trenton.
“We want people to have a good time, but we want people to be safe,” Thompson said.
In the weeks leading up to the Feb. 2 big game, community awareness events and assemblies for middle and high students will focus on educating people about the dangers of trafficking. Local, state and federal officials, some undercover, will also be working together to make arrests in New Jersey and New York, she said.