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Home / Johnny Hekker

LA spreads awareness about human trafficking ahead of Super Bowl


Local and state officials kicked off a campaign against human trafficking Tuesday at the Los Angeles International Airport to spread awareness ahead of the Super Bowl — which, like other large events, is susceptible to high levels of human and sex trafficking.

The airport installed signs on its digital screens and in the airport’s 460 restrooms to share resources for people who want to report suspected human trafficking and abuse before, during and after the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.

The efforts are part of the It’s A Penalty campaign, which works to prevent abuse, exploitation and human trafficking worldwide, particularly during large sporting events. The signs feature this year’s It’s A Penalty campaign ambassadors, Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Large events, such as the Super Bowl, can lead to increased instances of human trafficking due to a high influx of visitors,” It’s A Penalty states on its website. “And when it comes to the prevalence of commercial sex industries, California is particularly vulnerable because of its proximity to international borders, number of ports and airports, significant immigrant population and large economy that includes industries that attract forced labor.”

On Tuesday, It’s A Penalty’s CEO Sarah de Carvalho kicked off the campaign at LAX with California Attorney General Rob Bonta and LA City Council President Nury Martinez, along with representatives of the airport, the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners, Uber, Airbnb, American Airlines, A21 and the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking.

“The It’s a Penalty campaign, along with our partners, will help to prevent human trafficking and exploitation in the run-up to and during Super Bowl LVI, contributing toward a positive legacy in the host city of Los Angeles and beyond,” de Carvalho said. “We know from previous campaigns just how impactful they can be. Last year, our largest campaign ran during the Super Bowl in Tampa, which reported that 84% of people felt improved awareness of the issues of human trafficking and exploitation, and more equipped to make a report after being exposed to the It’s a Penalty campaign.”

Uber is participating in the campaign by displaying the national human trafficking hotline, 1-888-373-7888 and a local reporting hotline on 2,500 of its vehicles. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines will show an in-flight film aboard its January and February flights to spread awareness as well.

The campaign also sent Los Angeles-area Hilton, IHG and Motel 6 hotels posters and pens with the hotline number to display for the public, and hotel staff will receive posters of missing children to keep an eye out for them during the Super Bowl. Hilton and IHG staff will also receive training on how to identify and report human trafficking.

“Whether it’s ahead of the Super Bowl or in everyday life, it takes all of us working together to combat human trafficking,” Bonta said. “… Businesses and members of the public can all be part of the solution. One way to help is by posting our office’s informational notices in your place of business to share resources aimed at supporting survivors and preventing trafficking.”

It’s A Penalty was created in collaboration with the nonprofit A21 in 2014 to harness the attention around sports. It educates sports fans and the public on how to identify human trafficking and what penalties the offenses carry.

Its website classifies human trafficking as a “major issue” in Los Angeles and the United States.

“Children as young as 12 years old are being sold for sex in Los Angeles, California, where the area’s tourism industry, adult entertainment industry and international seaports and airports create a lucrative, and highly accessible, environment for traffickers,” It’s A Penalty states as part of its LA Super Bowl anti-trafficking campaign.

Nationwide, It’s A Penalty estimates that between 100,000 and 300,000 children have been trafficked and sold into the sex industry, citing the California Human Trafficking Factsheet.

It has launched campaigns at nine other Super Bowls, as well as Olympic games, World Cups and European Championships.

The campaign urges the public to know the signs of a human trafficking victim, which can include people who:

— lack official identification documents;

— avoid eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures/law enforcement;

— have tattoos or a branding on their body, which can be a way for traffickers to identify them;

— are not allowed to go into public alone or speak for themselves;

— seem to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction;

— show signs of physical injuries and abuse (however, human trafficking victims are often harmed in areas that don’t affect their appearance);

— seem to not know where they are, with an inability to clarify where they are staying;

— have little to no knowledge of the local language;

— were recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of their work;

— live somewhere with high security measures; and

— have few or no personal possessions or control over their finances.

More information about the campaign and how to spot and report human trafficking is available at itsapenalty.org.

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