AZ pulls penalty flag against sex traffickers at Super Bowl

Photo By: Gabriela Gogonea/ Deviantart.com
Photo By: Gabriela Gogonea/ Deviantart.com

Arizona law enforcement are increasing efforts to make sure the 2015 Super Bowl does not become an open gate for sex trafficking.

Law enforcement officials in Glendale in partnership with local, state and federal public safety officials want to make sure the Feb. 1 Super Bowl is not over shadowed by the potential increase of sex trafficking cases.

In 2014, Arizona State University School of Social Work’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research conducted a study investigating sex trafficking and prostitution during the 2014 Super Bowl.

The study focused on two parts. First, the report screened outcomes of potential online sex ads. Secondly, the report studied the demand of sex buying 10 days before the game.

The study concluded that large events like the Super Bowl where large numbers of people gather in a confined urban area becomes a prime locale for human sex traffickers.

According to the Polaris Project, which runs the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, Arizona recorded 77 human trafficking cases in 2014 with 54 of those cases attributed to sex trafficking.

A vast majority of victims reported by Polaris were women. About a third of victims reported were minors.

According to the Polaris Project, which ranks states based on laws governing human trafficking, Arizona is one out of nine states needing to make improvements in its laws governing sex trafficking. Improvements including: training for law enforcement, vacating convictions for victims, and a state mandated hotline.

In 2014, then Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that expanded the definition of racketeering to include child prostitution, sex trafficking and trafficking of persons for forced labor or services.

During the 10-day study of the 2014 Super Bowl 34 ads were identified as possibly depicting minor victims.

“Of the 34 ads identified and shared with surrounding law enforcement agencies, two were confirmed to be minors with one case resulting in the recovery of a juvenile victim,” said the study.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton created the Phoenix Human Trafficking Task Force in 2013. According to create a game plan for a safe Super Bowl.

According to Jim Waring, Phoenix’s vice mayor and a leader of the task force, one part included training hotel and airport employees on how to know what signs to look for when identifying a victim.

Taylor Keisling, front desk manager at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel, says pamphlets and fliers have been made available to guests regarding sex trafficking and his staff has been briefed on signs to look for among their guests.

While a definitive link to the Super Bowl cannot be determined, Polaris officials sees a modest uptake in the number of phone calls around the time of the Super Bowl.

Polaris will be adding additional staffers to the hotline to handle the rise in the number of phone calls.

Fifty-two of Clear Channel’s digital billboards in Phoenix are being used through Super Bowl week to promote the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline.

Rozlind Saumalu knows all to well the reality of sex trafficking. Starting at the age of 3 Saumalu was trafficked for sex by relatives. By the age of 17, she had met a man who at the time “was being groomed,” as a pimp. After four and a half years she found herself “so broken” that she picked up the phone and called police.

“The worst thing we can do for a victim is not talk about it,” said Saumalu. “When the Super Bowl is said and done it’s still going to be a problem on Feb. 2.”

Alexandra Aguilera is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at amaguilera@email.arizona.edu.

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