Law enforcement expects RNC event to increase sex trafficking in Tampa Bay

TAMPA - Clearwater Police anticipate at least a 50 percent increase in sex trafficking cases when the Republican National Convention comes to Tampa in August.

Some of those cases involve adults, and some involve children forced to come to Tampa and sell sex.

Clearwater Police Detective George Koder often uses backpage.com, a popular website, as a starting point to investigate sex trafficking.

A simple search for "Tampa" brought up at least eight pages with ads like, "Here's breath-taking peaches from Palm Harbor," saying one thing, while meaning another.

But that's nothing compared to what Detective Koder anticipates come the week of August 27.

"You're going to see an increased amount of ads with new faces."

An estimated 50,000 people will travel to Tampa in August for the Republican National Convention, an event unlike any Tampa has hosted since Super Bowl 2009.

"You're going to see activity where traffickers and the girls move into the area," Koder said.

He says sex traffickers are drawn to Tampa not because it's a political event, but simply because it's a large event.

Traffickers look to capitalize on crowds, moving both adults and children. 

"The message of sex with kids is wrong.  It should be obvious.  We shouldn't have to shout it from the rooftop, but we do, because it's happening," Koder said.

The task force on human trafficking that Koder leads has recovered 62 child sex trafficking victims since 2009, and that's just in Tampa.

"It's going to be more underground, more discrete than maybe a Super Bowl," he said.  

To get out ahead of it now, Koder says, the task force, made up of federal, state and local officers, are strengthening tipster relationships with adult entertainment clubs and hotels, planning reverse stings closer to the RNC, and sharing information with similar task forces across the country.

In addition, the local task force continues to look for leads on websites like backpage.com.  

Koder says none have popped yet.

"We want people to know we won't tolerate it.  We'll prosecute it.  We want families to know that we are protecting their kids.  These are people being taken advantage of at the point of being forced to have sex.  It's a horrible violation to them."

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