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The Super Bowl: Gridiron dreams, human trafficking nightmares

Jim Dinkins, President of Thomson Reuters Special Services, Former Head of Homeland Security Investigations

The Super Bowl means big money for the game’s host cities, and this year is no exception. According to a recent report by Micronomics Economic Research and Consulting, Super Bowl LVI is expected to bring in an estimated $477.5 million to the economy in and around Los Angeles this month. Large sporting events also mean big profits for human traffickers and global criminal organizations. It’s estimated that up to 66% of the global profits from human trafficking (approximately $150 billion USD) come from sexual exploitation and major sporting events are their “Super Bowls”.

The Super Bowl is more than an opportunity for traffickers – it is also one for the law enforcement teams dedicated to stopping them and rescuing the human trafficking victims. As the sports teams – and the criminals – gear up for their big game, so does the law enforcement community. Federal and local officials have been planning for months on how to catch both the traffickers and the customers who are coming for more than just the game. Police typically view these events as a perfect storm because the crimes are so centralized in terms of time and location. As an example, in 2019, officials arrested 58 people in a sex trafficking sting operation during the NCAA Men's Tournament Final Four in Minneapolis. As a result of the sting, 28 victims, including one minor, were helped.

In the last several years, there has been a significant increase in law enforcement and community-based initiatives to target and prevent human trafficking around the Super Bowl and other large events. Increasingly, public-private partnerships are helping to stem the tide of these heinous events. Law enforcement works with organizations such as the NFL Super Bowl Host Committee, nonprofits, hotels, financial institutions, and even truck stops along the way to enlist their aid in finding patterns that point to trafficking. For example, financial institutions have put their financial intelligence and anti-money laundering capabilities to work identifying suspicious financial activity and alerting law enforcement via Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS).

Law enforcement also depends on companies working to empower data for good as a force multiplier. In 2020, Thomson Reuters Special Services partnered with federal, state, and local police to help assist in investigations are human trafficking crimes committed in Miami during the Super Bowl. Law enforcement teams were able to leverage technology, data, and data scientists to arrest 47 criminals and rescue 22 victims. In January of 2022, one of the traffickers arrested in Miami was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for sex trafficking. This man was convicted in October 2021 of coercing two women and a girl into commercial sex during Super Bowl LIV.

Regarding the recently sentenced trafficker, the Department of Justice noted, “additional evidence showed that after the Superbowl in Miami, [he] planned to take the victims to Chicago, Illinois (during the NBA All-Star Game), New Orleans, Louisiana (during Mardi Gras), Las Vegas, Nevada, and other places to further sexually exploit them.”

The Department of Homeland Security recently closed out National Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month. The occasion reinforces the fact that human trafficking isn’t just a problem during the Super Bowl or during the awareness month of January, but year-round While human trafficking intensifies around large sporting events, concerts, and conventions – leading to a significant increase in the purchase of adults and children for commercial sex – it is an everyday problem that takes place in large and small communities throughout the United States and around the globe. In 2021, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Child received more than 17,200 reports of possible child sex trafficking. These are our fellow humans –– real people and children at risk. It’s crucial that we raise awareness of the issue and make every effort to stop this crime against humanity.

If you plan on attending this year’s Super Bowl to enjoy the game, or if you just want to become more educated about human trafficking, visit the Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign to learn more about what you can do to help. The greatest advancement I have seen in combating human trafficking in my 36 years in federal law enforcement, banking, and supporting law enforcement is education. You can’t identify, arrest, report, or rescue a victim if you can’t identify human trafficking indicators. So join us, become educated, and be part of the solution to counter this horrific global crime.

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