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Local organizations raise awareness about human trafficking ahead of Super Bowl

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Posted at 11:31 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 23:31:30-05

TAMPA, Fl.-- — Dozens of organizations are working to raise awareness about human trafficking ahead of the Super Bowl.

One of them includes the organization, Created, which is expanding its outreach efforts for the game.

“Everything in our program surrounds helping empower women to transition out of whatever situation it is they find themselves in,” said executive director Jillian Penhale.

The group works to help women coming out of human trafficking and exploitation. Typically, Penhale said they serve nearly 90 women a week through housing and outreach, and that around 16 women a day visit for resources at their drop in center.

Penhale said for Super Bowl week, they’re training more volunteers for a bigger outreach effort. She said they plan to bring toiletries and snacks, and hopefully have conversations.

“Our goal while we meet them is just to have a conversation and let them know that hey we see you we see you as a person and we want to know if you need helped you need safety do you need resources. And if they want to opt into any of that then we’re there to help them exit,” she said.

Law enforcement agencies across Tampa Bay are also working to fight the issue. HSI and others started training for the effort last year, going to the Super Bowl in Miami.

“Any time you have a large sporting event or any large event, people do want to take advantage of that. Some people if they’re traveling from out of town they feel like hey I’m traveling from out of town and I can get away with whatever I want to do,” said Kevin Sibley, the acting special agent in charge for HSI Tampa. “For traffickers themselves they want to look at as you have more people from out of town who might be interested in engaging in sexual exploitation so they may be they look at that as an opportunity to make more money as well. So the Super Bowl is a big draw to human traffickers.”

Sibley said it’s too early to say what role the pandemic might have on human trafficking, but noted they’ve done operations as recently as this month where they identified victims.

“I do think we are expecting fewer visitors to the Tampa area so that should mean fewer human trafficking victims but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either,” he said.

The agency said there’s a focus on greater human trafficking awareness outreach and proactive law enforcement operations.

“We have done from September to last two weeks ago, we did 9 prep operations in every area in which human trafficking could possibly occur.,” said Tampa Police Detective Andrea Hughes. “So hopefully we deterred at least our locals from trafficking any other individuals. But now e are just fine-tuning our operation plans and finalizing all the personnel that will be supporting us.”

The effort is multi-faceted, too.

Air BnB is partnering with It’s a Penalty’s global campaign, sharing educational materials with hosts and hosting an online workshop.

Florida’s attorney general said she and Uber are teaming up on virtual education. It’s expected to be delivered to drivers Thursday to help them spot signs of the crime.

Sibley said indicators can be someone who’s significant other is controlling and doesn’t let them talk to you or answer their phone, someone who is socially withdrawn from family and friends, someone who doesn’t have access to their own money, someone who is suddenly addicted to drugs.

“If you’re in the public and you see someone who’s being controlled, they don’t look like they’re in control of what they’re doing. It’s one thing to see a mom preventing their child from running out across the street, it’s another thing to see an adult male pulling a young girl around,” he said.

If you see something, you should say something.

Sibley says you can call 911 or ICE HSI’s tip line 1-866-347-2423.

Tampa Police say you can text ’SAFETAMPA’ and your tip to 847411 or through the Safe Tampa app.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at 1-888-373-7888.

Created also has a hotline number, at 813-445-0884.