TAMPA, Fla. — Tackling crime at Tampa’s biggest event in more than a decade. That’s the focus of a newly formed task force in Hillsborough County. In just nine months, all eyes will be on Tampa for the 55th NFL Super Bowl.
Tuesday, leaders in Hillsborough County met to discuss ways to stop human trafficking at the Super Bowl and related events.
While NFL leaders are still working to determine how COVID-19 will impact football's biggest game, Hillsborough County leaders are anxious to get our city back in the national spotlight and hope the event can bring the crime of human trafficking out of the shadows.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman is leading the charge to target the crime.
“Reading up on the topic, it broke my heart to see what these people go through. No one chose to be trafficked. They found themselves with no choice or that they were forced into it,” she explained.
One idea the county is rolling out is partnering with businesses, including hotels, to offer free online employee training on ways to spot the crime.
“Frequently, that’s the biggest issue is like what do I do? What does it look like? How do I help? And why is it important?” Overman added.
Hillsborough County is also getting help from South Florida leaders who tackled similar issues at the last Super Bowl. According to a report presented to county leaders Tuesday, human trafficking calls spiked more than 160% during the Super Bowl in Miami. Law enforcement were also able to rescue 20 victims, including four missing children. During the Super Bowl, they made 40 arrests related to sex trafficking.
Jillian Penhale is the Executive Director of Created, an organization that helps connect nearly 80 women a week in Tampa with resources to escape the sex trade. The organization offers a range of services from clothing and necessities to counseling to housing assistance.
“I really am excited to see how the county and city as a whole are coming together to plan for ways we can rescue women from this horrible injustice,” Penhale said. “Identifying that one woman and helping that one woman get out of the cycle is actually a major benefit for the rest of our city.”
Local survivors are now helping Tampa craft messaging that will be displayed during the Super Bowl on public transportation and rideshare vehicles.
Advocates hope the game will bring much-needed attention to a crime that too often gets overlooked.