Sex Trafficking Thrives
In The Phoenix Metro
Although Next Year’s Super Bowl In Glendale Adds Lumens To The Spotlight, Sex Trafficking Still Can (And Does) Happen In Phoenix, And Unfortunately Teens Are Most At Risk
Kathleen Winn, Outreach Director for the Arizona Attorney General's Office and liaison for the task force.
By Chris Braswell
Modern Times Magazine
Part One of a Two Part series
May 5, 2014 — Prostitution. Sex trafficking.
Such practices have been hailed — but mostly vilified — for centuries. Prostitution is perhaps not coincidentally called the oldest profession. But the toll that such activities take upon the young girls that get involved in them — experts say the average age of entry is 14 — does not make for fairy tale endings.
Most residents of the Phoenix metro assume things like human trafficking and prostitution exist somewhere in the region, but few people likely realize how prevalent these activities are and the complexity of the battle that law enforcement and community groups are waging against them; it is a task with sharper focus right now thanks to the upcoming Super Bowl in Glendale.
According to Lt. Robert Conrad of the Phoenix Police Department, sex trafficking is the second most lucrative criminal racket in the United States and probably worldwide, surpassed only by narcotics trafficking. Conrad is a liaison for the city’s interagency, inter-organizational sex trafficking task force.
Federal law enforcement agencies handled 2,515 human trafficking cases between January 2008 and June 2010, resulting in 144 arrests, of which 80 percent involved sex trafficking and 10 percent involved labor trafficking.
Federal agencies are more likely to lead labor trafficking investigations (29 percent) than sex trafficking investigations (7 percent). In comparison, the Phoenix Police Department handled 2,589 such cases during the same 30-month period, resulting in 2,413 sex-trafficking or prostitution-related arrests, Conrad said.
The Phoenix Police Department’s vice enforcement unit has 17 full-time detectives, one lieutenant and two sergeants, one intelligence analyst and one administrative licensing investigator, and all of its personnel are also deputized as U.S. Marshals and sex trafficking task force officers. It is the only such vice unit in the state of Arizona.
The city force’s human trafficking case load has gone down in the recent years, but its arrest rate has spiked. The Phoenix Police Department’s investigative workload comprised 519 prostitution cases in 2010, 390 in 2011, and 268 in 2012. Twenty-nine of its 2010 juvenile prostitution cases led to an arrest (amounting to an investigation/arrest rate of 5 percent); in 2011 it was 25 at 6 percent, and in 2012 it was 53 at 19 percent, Conrad said.
Greater Phoenix Metro Sex Trafficking Task Force
Influences on sex trafficking include weather, resort- and entertainment-based economic factors such as large national and regional sporting events, urban geography, geographic proximities to pornography hubs and “legalized” prostitution jurisdictions. Among densely developed metropolitan areas like Phoenix or any other major city, infrastructure such as freeway systems, hubs of aviation and other mass transit, and large events facilitate the movement of people, connecting a city with surrounding areas and other major markets and population clusters.
With the approach of the National Football League’s Super Bowl XLIX, to be held in Phoenix next February, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton formed a task force in December to combat sex trafficking. As well as preparing for the law enforcement complications of the upcoming major sporting event, the task force aims to support, in general, the ongoing battle against child sex trafficking and related criminal activity.
The stated goals of the task force are:
- Enhance regional law enforcement’s ability to identify and rescue victims.
- Work to prevent child sex trafficking, through training at hotels, airlines, airports and other venues. Specifically, training workers how to recognize the signs of trafficking, where to report suspected trafficking, and how to connect victims with services.
- Provide support to state-level legislative efforts to end child trafficking.
- Assure that trafficking victims in crisis can find help.
- Consider the examples of “best practices” for child safety identified by other communities who have hosted the Super Bowl and events like it.
The task force membership has representation from the Phoenix City Council, the city and county attorneys offices, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and U.S. Attorneys Office, Arizona State University, Southwest Airlines, the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, the Phoenix Police Department as well as police agencies from surrounding jurisdictions throughout the greater Phoenix metro area, the Phoenix Dream Center, the Arizona Foundation for Women, Hickey Family Foundation, Ascension Lutheran Church, O’Connor House, Arizona Training and Resources to Stop Trafficking, Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Phoenix, and Bethany Bible Church and various other local churches, social service philanthropies, intergovernmental organizations, and faith-based institutions.
ASU Study Aids Preparation for the Super Bowl’s Sex-Trade Activity
The FBI, the New Jersey State Police, and the New York City Police Department investigated sex trafficking before and during the 2014 Super Bowl, leading to numerous arrests and victim recoveries.
A March 2014 study by Arizona State University’s School of Social Work, Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research (STIR), in collaboration with the university’s McCain Institute for International Leadership (http://ssw.asu.edu/research/stir), sought to understand the true impact of the Super Bowl on sex trafficking, and to develop a baseline understanding of regional sex trafficking trends for the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale.
The study screened the outcomes of online sex advertisements for potential sex trafficking victims. With assistance from local police agencies, the authors reviewed thousands of Internet-based commercial sex ads on a well-known adult services site from Jan. 24 to Feb. 2 (Super Bowl Sunday) 2014. The researchers also placed decoy ads in the geographic area nearest to the 2014 Super Bowl venue (Staten Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey) and in the Phoenix metro where the 2015 event will be held.
At least 38 different websites advertised victims who showed indications of being subjected to juvenile sex trafficking, and at least four websites were providing customer feedback or soliciting recommendations for victims of sex trafficking.
For more helpful information visit Sex Trafficking Safety Tips For Parents
The authors of the ASU report found no evidence that this past year’s Super Bowl was a causal factor for sex trafficking in the northern New Jersey area in the days before the game, and that the sheer volume of ads offering commercial sex likely exceeds the capacity of any one law enforcement agency to respond in such a way to discourage traffickers from coming to their jurisdiction.
“The conclusion of this study is that the Super Bowl, or any other large event that provides a signiﬁcant concentration of people in a relatively confined urban area, becomes a desirable location for a trafficker to bring their victims for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. The same can be said of virtually any other criminal offense — the propensity for a given offense to occur tends to increase with a similar increase in victim and suspect populations,” according to the report.
Who’s At Risk
Children are the most sought after sex-trafficking victim demographic, and the average age of entry into the sex trade in Arizona is 14, said Kathleen Winn, Outreach Director for the Arizona Attorney Generals Office, and the office’s liaison for the task force.
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