Federal authorities working with Atlanta’s police department arrested 33 people on sex trafficking charges over the past week in the lead up to the Super Bowl, according to the Guardian.
As a result of the raids, four trafficking survivors have been rescued.
The Super Bowl, which will take place on Feb.3, and other major sporting events usually entail a surge in sex trafficking-related arrests, although advocacy groups say that this is likely not due to an increase in sex trafficking around sporting events, but rather heightened police presence.
Law enforcement agencies, however, argue that major events attract human trafficking organizations that cater to tourists in the area, the Guardian reports. Regardless of whether or not the event causes an increase in trafficking, the attention and coverage around the Super Bowl provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the issue.
"The Super Bowl is an opportunity for us to talk about [human trafficking], but it's something we have to be vigilant about 12 months out of the year," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN.
"It's about making sure that the thousands of men and women who work in our hotels understand what the signs are. It's about making sure our police officers understand what the signs are. It's about making sure the public is informed," she added.
Planning for the Super Bowl’s security has been underway for more than two years. In recent weeks, hundreds of local, state, and federal authorities have arrived in Atlanta, and additional security and surveillance measures have been taken to protect the city during the event. As a result, police have been able to dedicate more resources to tracking and apprehending criminals, including perpetrators of human trafficking.
This increase in arrests, however, can overwhelm local court systems and can negatively impact victims of sex trafficking. Additional law enforcement has been dedicated to targeting people engaged in prostitution, who are often the victims of sex trafficking themselves.
“If, indeed, the goal is to address human trafficking, why is law enforcement targeting those believed to be victims?” Kate Mogulescu, the founder of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society, wrote in the New York Times.
In the days surrounding the Super Bowl, the National Human Trafficking Hotline does receive more calls reporting alleged trafficking incidents. However, advocates say that the increase is due heightened awareness as a result of anti-trafficking campaign efforts in Super Bowl host cities.
Hundreds of hotels in Atlanta received bars of soap bearing the National Human Trafficking Hotline number in the week before the Super Bowl, as part of one such initiative, and anti-trafficking posters have been posted throughout the city’s major areas of transit.
Human trafficking is a year-round problem in Atlanta, which has the largest illegal sex industry among 14 major cities in the US, according to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Rather than briefly cracking down on trafficking during major sporting events, advocacy groups are advocating for more resources to be dedicated to protecting victims and breaking up trafficking rings throughout the year.
Around the world, an estimated 40.3 million people are trafficked, the majority of whom are women and children.
While there are no exact numbers on human trafficking in the US, Polaris, a group fighting modern slavery, said that there was a 13% increase in reported cases between 2016 and 2017, and estimates that more than 100,000 people at any given time are being trafficked.