by Emma Elshaw
Large crowds. Screaming fans. Loud cheers. These are all common elements at sporting events, and a an unfortunate opportunity for traffickers to take advantage of the loud noises and the mass collection of strangers to kidnap a young person for the purposes of sex trafficking.
Trafficking at sporting events is, unfortunately, not a rare occurrence. While many go to have an evening of fun with friends or family, it can turn into someone’s worst nightmare in the blink of an eye. At a recent NBA game, a 15-year-old girl was kidnapped while taking a trip to the washroom. After days of no results in finding her, the family launched their own private investigation and she was located within a day, after discovering pictures of her online where she was listed for sale.
Unfortunately, “traffickers often see sporting events as an opportunity.” There are lots of people, lots of noise, lots of hustle and bustle, and people are focused on something else - the game. Sporting events are “prime targets for human traffickers because of the number of people who converge onto a city during these events.” Some people come from a distance to see their favourite team, and traffickers see this as an opportunity for new customers, an opportunity to make money from people who are not usually in town. In some instances, law enforcement recognizes this reality, and takes steps to increase patrolling during sporting events. This took place at the 2020 Super Bowl in Miami, during which “47 traffickers were arrested and 22 survivors identified” due to the FBI operation.
This situation is not unique to the NBA or the Super Bowl. During the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, four people were arrested on human trafficking-related charges, and 13 people were pulled out of a potential sex trafficking situation. Similarly, at a NASCAR race in North Carolina, 15 people were taken out of a trafficking situation and three people were arrested on trafficking-related offences.
Preventing trafficking from happening involves being able to recognize the signs that someone is being trafficked. Often, someone will appear to be controlled, have burn marks or visible signs of branding, seem malnourished, and have injuries or bruises. However, in cases like at a sporting event, where someone is being taken for the purposes of being trafficked, there can be fewer signs that might alert someone to the danger. For example, the person may not have new or fancy clothing or jewellery, but will likely seem uncomfortable and they may have a frightened look on their face.
Though sex trafficking at sporting events may be more difficult to detect, it may be worth stepping in and asking a seemingly innocent question, like directions to the nearest washroom, if you have a feeling that something is not right. This can give you an opportunity to get a stronger sense that something is wrong, or even give you the opportunity to address the person suspected of being trafficked directly.
If you suspect that someone may be in a situation of human trafficking, please call the Canda Human Trafficking Hotline (1-833-900-1010). They can help identify if this might be a trafficking situation and the next best steps.