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MBI Victim Advocate Lauren Portal Says Active Bystanders Could End Human Trafficking at the Super Bowl: Here's What to Look For, How to Help Ahead of the Game

Photo: Jen Theodore
Photo: Jen Theodore

Law enforcement agencies are stepping up efforts to crack down on human trafficking ahead of the Super Bowl in Tampa this weekend. 

WMFE spoke with the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation’s victim advocate Lauren Portal about these efforts and how bystanders can help.

And a note: the topic of this conversation may not be appropriate for younger listeners. 

Read the full interview below. 

Danielle: So with the Super Bowl in Tampa this year, what efforts are you making to combat sex trafficking here in Orlando?

Lauren: Right now, there's definitely a lot of awareness going around through the entire state of Florida.

I know Ashley Moody has partnered with a few rideshare drivers to identify the signs of trafficking, because we do have them driving around, picking and dropping people off, and they very well would be able to hear the conversations that are going on. And if they recognize something that they can report it.

Danielle: That's a great idea. What about law enforcement and Super Bowl organizers? What are they doing to stem trafficking?

Lauren: Well, they are also. Tampa has done a lot of things out to the community, saying you know, this is not accepted. We're going to catch you. They've been doing a lot of things leading up to the Super Bowl. Making a lot of arrests, again, you know, making statements with all the arrests. It's not tolerated here.

Central Florida is also part of those conversations, even though it's not happening here, you know, directly in Orlando, we are very close to Tampa.

So I think all law enforcement again, you know, we are looking for the signs, we want to make sure we can identify them, and that we're available if something does happen.

Danielle: Absolutely. The Polaris Project says that sex trafficking happens with the same frequency around the Super Bowl as it does throughout the rest of the year. So is the focus right now on the Super Bowl more just about, you know, using the event to highlight the problem? How do you get people to pay more attention to it other times of the year too?

Lauren: Well sporting events bring in lots of money and people from all around the world. The Super Bowl generates millions of dollars every year. So traffickers will and do travel from one location to another to meet the demands of the event.

Though human trafficking awareness is tied to the Super Bowl, just like you said, it does happen year round. But it's a good opportunity to talk about the issue. January, is also Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so it's also a good time to highlight that.

Danielle: So how can victims get help if they're listening to this right now?

Lauren: Well, I want you know, again, you are not alone. If you need help, you can either call local law enforcement, you can call the human trafficking hotline, and you can see what type of services are available in the area that you're in. I think it's also important as someone that may not be going through these things, but as a bystander that we're active bystanders.

So look for the signs, you know, physical injuries or abuse, avoiding eye contact, social interactions. They could have some type of script or rehearsed responses in social interactions. They could be living at the place of employment. They're checking into hotels or motels with very much older males. They could be referring to those males as Daddy, are there any tattoos or branding, you know, do they have property of or Daddy written somewhere there on the body.

And if you are seeing these things, you can also report it to the national hotline or call your local law enforcement agency or 911. And I really think that if we all are active bystanders that we can end human trafficking as a whole.

If you or someone you know is being trafficked call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or text the words HELP to BEFREE (233733).
Listen to the full conversation, by clicking on the clip at the top of the page. 

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.
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