Human Trafficking and the Super Bowl What Business Owners Need to Know

Human_Trafficking_17On February 3rd, New Orleans will be filled with thousands of visitors for the XLVII Super Bowl. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is always excited about the overflow to local hotels, casinos and nightlife. So, while families and fans are shopping for tailgate party barbecues, other sports enthusiasts are shopping for sexual encounters with people forced into prostitution. Super Bowl week is the biggest money-making week of the year for sex traffickers, who will bring in hundreds of men, women and children to provide sex for money to New Orleans and neighboring areas. There are many things business owners and hospitality workers can do to prevent the exploitation of trafficking victims.
Last year, Louisiana enhanced their human trafficking laws, making it easier to investigate and prosecute traffickers. The penalty for sex trafficking is now a 15 year sentence of hard labor and a $15,000 fine per count. Trafficking of a child imposes a 25 year sentence of hard labor and $25,000 fine per count. A much-needed state-wide trafficking task force is now in action in our neighbor state. Their biggest focus is on the Interstate-10 corridor, which is the most frequently used highway to transport victims from one site to another. They also respond to all calls about suspicious activity at hotels, nightclubs and other venues where prostitution can be found. The Task Force is comprised of the state’s Sheriffs’ Association and The Metropolitan Center for Women and Children as the two main agencies. Municipal law enforcement agencies receive support services to combat trafficking in their cities. Traffickers in Sin City will have a much harder time keeping away from law enforcement at this year’s Super Bowl. For the Gulf Coast, this means that many traffickers will prefer to set up in our state, which still has weaker trafficking laws. Mississippi’s penalty for any trafficking incident is a sentence of up to 20 years, and no state task force has yet been formed, although Advocates For Freedom (AFF) is partnering with the MS Attorney General’s Office to provide task force training to law enforcement throughout the state in 2013.
What does this mean to our local businesses? According to the Human Trafficking statute (MS Code 97-3-54), anyone who helps a trafficker to exploit his victims is also guilty of trafficking. For taxi and limousine drivers, it means that if you transport a prostitute to a john, you may be charged with sex trafficking. If it turns out the victim was under age, you may also have to register as a sex offender if convicted. Chauffeurs and drivers have always been a valuable resource to out-of-towners for finding the kind of fun and leisure activities they want. But if your passenger asks you about how or where to purchase a prostitute for the night, the penalty can be much worse than you expect if the person being sold is not a willing participant. And you cannot trust them to tell you. Victims have been frightened into telling everyone who asks that they are over 18 years old and are not there against their will. And if the prostitute looks young, he or she is young, and very possibly under the age of 18. Most sex trafficking victims are recruited at the age of 13. On any given night, they can be trafficked as many as 20 times. By the time they reach the age of thirty, many victims are so physically damaged that reconstructive surgery would be required for their bodies to regain proper function. They are malnourished and often forced to take narcotics. They are beaten, their families threatened, or they are forced to live in squalor for days without food or water if they refuse to work.
For hotels, casinos and nightclubs, any staff member who assists in procuring sex for money is guilty of either prostitution or human trafficking. Managers and business owners should train their staff on how to spot traffickers and victims and to report it promptly to law enforcement. If done correctly, law enforcement may be able to help you get rid of the trafficking at your establishment with minimal disruption to your business. The victims may look like ordinary guests, but by asking a few questions and a closer look, you can determine if this might be someone being trafficked. Victims are often trained to answer questions, like “How old are you?”, “Where are you from?”, or “What brought you here to our town?” The answers will seem rehearsed, because they are. Their answers may also be vague. Victims often look down when spoken to; they may not speak English well. They may have tattoos that depict either money or ownership, like “Daddy$ Girl”, and clothing may be inappropriate for the weather or ambiance of the establishment. The victim may hang out in the lobby and be very friendly to any single men checking in to the hotel. You may see him or her with different men throughout the day. When someone besides the guest rents a room, law enforcement can tell you this is a red flag for trafficking. Chances are the guest does not have proper ID or is underage and cannot rent the room for themselves, so the trafficker checks them in. If you see such an encounter, check on your guest after they have had time to settle in. What you may find is a scared teenager who is not sure what name they have been given for this trip. Traffickers know that hotels wish to maintain privacy for their guests, and they exploit this frequently to keep their crimes hidden. Your housekeeping and concierge staff may be the only lifeline a victim may have to the world outside of their room.
The Super Bowl is the most exciting day for American sports fans, and the time with friends and family is fun and relaxing. New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have so much to offer tourists during Super Bowl week. We can all do something to make sure it is not the worst nightmare of a child’s life. For more information on what you can do to help stop trafficking during the Super Bowl, purchase the book, “In Our Backyard” by Nita Belles, or contact AFF by visiting their website at http://www.advocatesforfreedom.org. No matter what, err on the side of caution and report any suspicious activity. You could be saving someone’s missing child, or giving an adult a chance for freedom and to enjoy next year’s Super Bowl.

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