If you or anyone you know is in danger, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888. Learn more by visiting the Human Trafficking Awareness Toolkit.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Advocates and law enforcement are raising awareness about the possibility of human trafficking during the NBA All-Star Game Weekend in Salt Lake City.
Last year during the NBA All-Star weekend in Cleveland, Ohio, eight men were arrested in an anti-human trafficking operation.
Advocates say that human trafficking is happening every single day and that law enforcement and victim service providers are continuously engaging in efforts to tackle this problem — but it’s important to note an event like the game, which will bring thousands to Salt Lake City, could create an influx in human trafficking.
“Large events like the NBA All-Star Weekend attracts large crowds,” said Andrea Sherman, the Trafficking in Persons Program director with the Asian Association of Utah.
Sherman said an area could see an increase in sex for hire when a large-scale event is around the corner because more people are looking for those services.
“With big events, there’s also a big need for temporary workers,” she added. “We’re talking about sex and labor trafficking because there is a possibility those can increase on both levels just because of the large population of people and because there’s money.”
When there’s money involved, criminal activities often follow. An influx of tourism to an area increases the opportunities for traffickers to exploit their victims, Sherman says.
The program reportedly served 255 survivors last year, and just over half were involved in labor trafficking.
In collaboration with other organizations, the program is providing 50 beds at a confidential location for survivors who may need a temporary place to stay.
January Riggin, the founder of Soap2Hope, is passionate about advocating against human trafficking. She was a victim of sex trafficking in the 90s at a time when she was the most vulnerable.
“I feel like I was the perfect ingredient for a trafficker or predator at the time,” Riggin said. “I was a teenager. I needed shelter. I had an addiction problem already.”
With the help of other organizations, Riggin was able to get out of the situation and get into recovery for her addiction. She created Soap2Hope to help those that have been trafficked, which is one of several organizations that have been preparing for the NBA All-Star Weekend.
“Food, hygiene, new clothes, maybe a new phone — all that collaborative stuff is happening and it’s being built that we will be prepared for the event,” she said. “We will be doing our normal street outreach. We’ve done a lot of awareness in these areas.”
“With large events, there’s always that possibility there could be an increased number of human trafficking cases or an intensified concentration of cases,” Sherman said.
Advocates shared they have been working for several months to make sure there are resources available for those that need them.
“Us with other service providers locally have provided 50 beds at a confidential location where if victims are notified, we can connect them with the right services,” she said.
Officials at the Salt Lake City Police Department said it’s an issue they are constantly working to tackle with federal and state partners. This weekend, more officers will be out patrolling, and human trafficking is one thing they will keep an eye out for.
“Our police department is working year-round is running operations trying to address human trafficking, but especially with national and world scale events where all eyes and hundreds of thousands of people coming into the city, we really need these partners,” said Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
Riggin says although it makes her nervous when there are large-scale events that could bring an increase in trafficking, she’s also hopeful when she sees so many groups coming together to address it to help others that could be going through an experience similar to hers.
“It does feel awful at the time, but there’s a lot of hope, there’s a lot of resources, and there’s a lot of navigating that with you and you don’t have to feel forgotten in this process,” she said.
If you hear or see anything that looks suspicious, call 911.