TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa is less than a month out from the Super Bowl, a highlight for fans and a dark draw for human sex trafficking.
On Monday, Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Attorney General Ashley Moody joined hotel industry leaders and non-profits working to fight human trafficking, to outline the efforts leading up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.
I-Team Investigation: Kids Sold for Sex
The American Hotel & Lodging Foundation (AHLA Foundation), in partnership with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA), announced the launch of its "No Room for Trafficking" program, building upon the yearly training already taking place for thousands of hotel employees on how to identify and stop human trafficking.
Back-to-back Super Bowls in Florida has presented an opportunity to showcase the Sunshine State. But if you look closely, beyond the flash and fans, Moody warned the spotlight comes with responsibility.
“It also brings the underside of the criminal world, and that is those that are using a game, an entertaining event, to increase their sales of our most vulnerable," Moody said of human trafficking.
At Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Moody said law enforcement conduced 47 human trafficking arrests and recovered 22 victims, including four girls under the age of 18.
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Human trafficking survivor Kat Rosenblatt shared her story at Monday's event, telling those in attendance, “As a survivor, at 13 years old, I got recruited at a hotel in Miami Beach. Nobody knew what trafficking was.”
Rosenblatt said a 19-year-old girl befriended her at a pool at the time.
"She told me all of the things I wanted to hear. That I was valuable, that I wasn’t alone, that she cared. And she lured me into this. Sold me to a 65-year-old sex tourist and said, ‘Here’s your girl, she’s ready for you,'” Rosenblatt said.
Rosenblatt had this message for anyone listening: “I want you to go home knowing this is real.”
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At the same time Rosenblatt shared her story at The Hilton Downtown, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office announced its month-long investigation, "Operation Interception," resulted in the arrest of 71 "Johns" or sex buyers on charges of soliciting another to commit prostitution or entering/remaining in place for prostitution.
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“When you talk about eradicating human trafficking, it all comes back to the demand, and that’s why all of our operations have been focused on eradicating the demand," Sheriff Chad Chronister said.
As for the rescue of human trafficking victims, Chronister said his department has been able to rescue eight victims over the last two years.
“We’re not going to stop. The game’s going to come, the game’s going to leave, our human trafficking efforts are still going to continue," Chronister said.
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Red flags of potential trafficking in children
- Unexplained absences from school
- Changes in usual attire, behavior or relationships
- Suddenly has more expensive material possessions
- Chronically runs away from home
- Fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous and paranoid
- Defers to another person to speak for him or her, especially during interactions with school authority figures
- Show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement or other serious pain or suffering
- Seems to be deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care or other life necessities
- Has new branding/tattoos
- Has a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” who is noticeably older
- Makes references to sexual situations or terminology that are beyond age-specific norms or engaging in uncharacteristically promiscuous behavior
Source: Florida Department of Education
If you believe you are a victim of Human Trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline, or call them at 1-888-3737-888. If you suspect a child is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.