Advocates for victims of human trafficking have long warned that major sporting events increase the prevalence of the crime, which is one reason trafficking prevention has been a focus of the World Games 2022 in Birmingham.
The 11-day World Games, which runs through July 17 and is expected to have a $200 million-plus economic impact in the Birmingham area, is organized with the support of the International Olympic Committee and brings more than 3,000 athletes from some 100 countries to battle for the gold medal in many unique sports.
Thousands of volunteers are part of the Games as well, and part of their training involved human trafficking awareness. And though awareness does not prevent the crime, it is a helpful step toward prevention, said Ellie Friedman, Deputy District Attorney for Jefferson County.
“Training the World Games staff about human trafficking will not prevent it from happening, but it will make it easier to identify,” said Friedman, who is co-chair of the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee with the Junior League of Birmingham. “Throughout the World Games, we want Birmingham to be known as a place with delicious food, great hospitality and pleasant weather. We do not want Birmingham to be known as a city where you can purchase another person for sex.”
Friedman got involved with the committee three years ago and leads free community trainings on human trafficking for both Junior League and the Children’s Policy Council Child Trafficking Solutions Project.
The sheer number of people those organizations have been able to reach helps bring the important subject to the public’s attention, Friedman said.
“This year alone, the Junior League of Birmingham has reached 358 individuals through our trainings and events,” she said. “We have placed 424 signs with our partnership through the Alabama Department of Transportation, and through our partnerships with other community organizations, we placed an additional 213 signs in rest stops and gas stations across the state.”
Friedman said that as it relates to the World Games in particular, human trafficking training was a crucial part of preparing to host the Games in Birmingham.
“Birmingham’s central location made it an attractive location for the World Games, but it also makes it attractive to traffickers,” she explained. “Whenever you add an additional 100,000 people in one location, we know statistically that demand, and therefore supply, for human trafficking will increase.
“While we rely on law enforcement to investigate human trafficking cases, we rely on the public to communicate with law enforcement when they see something suspicious or out of place. Failing to recognize human trafficking does not mean [it] goes away.”
Amy Wagar, director of advocacy for Worthy2.org and victim’s service coordinator with Child Trafficking Solutions Project, explained the connection between money and trafficking: “Anytime there is a large influx of people and money, such as large sporting events, it creates an environment where the exploitation of the vulnerable can flourish. It is basic economics: Demand plus money equals exploitation.”
Wagar added she does expect, based on other large-scale events in the U.S. and around the world, an uptick in the number of traffickers and sex workers descending upon the state based around The World Games, just as there have been for college football games, Super Bowls and other large events.
Proactive, mandatory preparation
Wagar agreed that the amount of effort put into training volunteers and community members has been crucial.
“While I can’t speak on behalf of The World Games, I do know they have put a great deal of effort, resources and energy into mandatory training of all World Games staff and volunteers for how to recognize and react to potential trafficking scenarios,” she said. “They have also been working closely with law enforcement to mitigate and respond appropriately to suspected trafficking. They are to be commended for their efforts in this. They have been quite proactive.”
Wagar said others have come alongside the World Games organization and law enforcement to handle the influx of traffickers.
“Anti-sex trafficking organizations and NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations) [have planned] a variety of outreaches and events to try to stop the demand and interrupt sex purchases, reach out to sexually-exploited victims and help the general public become aware of what is taking place,” Wagar explained. “Many of these are faith-based efforts from organizations that have many years of experience in doing these types of outreaches. I have personally put together many of them and developed protocols for them, and they are well-trained.”
For more information on training around the country and to learn important signs of sex trafficking visit worthy2.org, facebook.com/ChildTraffickingSolutionsProject, birmingham365.org/organization/junior-league-of-birmingham or innerbody.com/resources-for-victims-of-human-and-sex-trafficking#victim-resources.
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