Three Alabama cities have declared themselves sex trafficking-free zones.
Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry signed a proclamation Nov. 25 making his city the first in Alabama to join the TraffickingFree Zone (TFZ) program, an initiative of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT).
Mountain Brook adopted the initiative Dec. 9 and Birmingham followed suit Dec. 10, becoming the largest city in the nation by population to join the initiative.
According to the USIAHT website, TFZ is a community-based initiative to reduce the number of buyers in the sex trade. The program is implemented in collaboration with community members and leaders, law enforcement, businesses, schools, health care organizations, churches and the media. The effort uses technology to reach buyers and victims on a massive scale.
The program helps communities come together to arrest and prosecute sex buyers instead of the victims who are being sold, educates people on sex trafficking and uses technology and research to reduce demand.
Curry said 17 sex trafficking arrests had been made in Vestavia since July. The Birmingham metro area is often cited as a sex-trafficking mecca because two major interstates, I-20 and I-65, run through the city. More than 30 other arrests have been made since July throughout metro Birmingham.
Advocacy group Child Trafficking Solutions Project will train city staff to recognize the signs of sex trafficking and head community outreach. Child Trafficking Solutions Project is a statewide coalition comprised of human trafficking prevention organizations, law enforcement, government agencies, child protective services, survivor care providers and other organizations.
Training is available for law enforcement, first responders, medical personnel, educators, child-serving professionals and parents and students.
There were an estimated 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking, feeding a $150 billion industry worldwide in 2016, according to USIAHT, and the U.S. is one of the largest global consumers of human trafficking goods and services. By some estimates as many as 100,000 children in the U.S. are sex trafficking victims, 60–70% of whom come from child social services or the foster care system.